“I rely on my cell phone to communicate. We shouldn’t have to worry that our personal information, and that of everyone in our phone, will be up for grabs every time we go to a political protest.”
— Bob Offer-Westort, a homeless advocate suing the San Francisco police department, in a statement released by the ACLU, which filed the lawsuit (PDF) Wednesday. The ACLU says the SFPD’s search of Offer-Westort’s mobile phone without a warrant was illegal and violated not only his rights but the rights of his associates, too. Offer-Westort was arrested in January as he protested an ordinance that makes it illegal for the homeless to camp and sleep in a couple of plazas in San Francisco. After he was taken to the police station (he was cited and released that same day), an officer began looking through Offer-Westort’s cell phone and reading his text messages out loud, according to the lawsuit. Offer-Westort said the officer told him that the California Supreme Court — which ruled in 2011 that police can search suspects’ cell phones without violating their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches — gave him the right to do so. Also in 2011, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would’ve required cops to get a warrant before searching suspects’ mobile phones. The ACLU says the lawsuit it filed Wednesday is the first of its kind in the state.
(Photo by Reuters)