‘Governor Moonbeam’ becomes ‘Governor Pinocchio’

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Gov. Jerry Brown may have spent his political career in California, but his decision this weekend to reverse course and veto legislation protecting citizens’ cell phones from warrantless police snooping shows he certainly knows the Potomac Two-Step.

Last week, I noted a recent CNN article concerning H.B. 914, a very good piece of legislation that was overwhelmingly passed by the California State Legislature in August. The bill would have reversed a California Supreme Court ruling that puts the state’s cell phone users in jeopardy of having their phones searched by police without a warrant.

CNN, citing sources in Brown’s office, reported in late September that the governor had decided not to veto the bill. California law provides that if a governor does not sign or veto a bill within 12 days of receiving it from the legislature, it becomes part of the state’s code. Such a development, though unusual, would have been a rare victory for privacy rights and the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution, which is supposed to prevent unwarranted police searches.

Nevertheless, Brown vetoed the bill on Sunday. His lame excuse was that “courts are better suited to resolve the complex and case-specific issues relating to constitutional search-and-seizures protections.”

It could be that Brown lacks concern for the privacy of the Golden State’s cell phone users. Or perhaps he truly believes police should be able to peruse a citizen’s cell phone for any reason or no reason. Or maybe simple money politics are at the core of Brown’s misleading about-face. As Wired noted in an article this week, $38,900 was recently deposited into Brown’s campaign by the Peace Officers Research Association of California, which opposed H.B. 914.

Whatever the reason for Brown’s shameful action, its ramifications will be felt.

Wired notes that the “veto means that when police arrest anybody in the Golden State, they may search that person’s mobile phone — which in the digital age likely means the contents of persons’ e-mail, call records, text messages, photos, banking activity, cloud-storage services, and even where the phone has traveled.”

Moreover, because of a quirk in California legislative law, it will be at least a year before the legislature is able to take further action on the measure.

During his first stint as governor from 1975 to 1983, Brown’s unusual behavior earned him the moniker “Governor Moonbeam.” Based on his latest flip-flop and apparently deliberate effort to mislead the public, he may now be known as “Governor Pinocchio.”

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.