The California Supreme Court ruled on Monday that police can search cell phone text messages of an arrested person without any warrant, and asserted that those arrested have no privacy rights over any personal belongings on them when they are taken into custody.
The 5-2 split verdict of the court settled a challenge to an appeals court judgment related to the arrest and trial of a drug dealer in 2007, but many see the verdict as a fresh encroachment by the government apparatus into the sphere of privacy rights and personal liberty.
Significantly, in a dissenting note, two judges said the verdict will allow police to rummage at leisure through the wealth of personal and business information that can be carried on a mobile phone or handheld computer merely because the device was taken from an arrestee's person.
The verdict looks like a natural extension of the provisions of the USA PATROIT Act of 2001 enacted by the George W. Bush administration, but in reality it's one more instance of the government's encroachment into the personal sphere.
Certainly, the Big Brother is stamping his mighty foot once again to assert his rights to watch over the personal business of the people.
Coming at a time when the afterglow of WikiLeaks' sucker punch on big, secret governments is fading, the judgment is a harbinger of more backlashes of its kind.
The majority ruling depended on verdicts in the 1970s that upheld the right of police officers to examine clothing and other articles on the arrested person's body such as cigarette packages. The dissenting judges pointed out that tech devices such as cell phones can contain huge chunks of information and data and hence they can't be likened to things like a cigarette packet.
The verdict has come at a time when there is renewed focus on the efforts of governments and nation states to garner exhaustive information on people with the purported aim of securing the safety of everyone and preventing terror attacks and other subversive activities.
However, there are millions who are queasy about the intrusion of governments – meaning bureaucrats, police officers and other government functionaries - into the personal lives of people.
... today, modern governments have all the tools to transform their country into a creeping police state, more so now then ever before, in this electronic age. They have access to information technology that previous full-fledged “police state” governments could only have dreamed about, writes Rodrigue Tremblay, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montreal, in a Global Research article.
Modern governments are great information-obsessed Leviathans, Tremblay says, warning that with each act of encroachment into the personal sphere, people on course to losing most of their rights over time. Freedom rarely disappears in one fell swoop. Its disappearance is rather the end result of a thousand encroachments.
Well, there are clear signs that this massive data mining system on individuals is now solidly in place and is in full operation and can be expected to grow over time. George Orwell must be turning in his grave, Tremblay says.
Is that the Big Brother's reply to the euphoria over WikiLeaks' unraveling of some of the dark, secret ways in which governments are functioning across the world?