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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Lawmaker Says Email Seizure Needs Warrants

(CN) - Law-enforcement agencies need warrants to seize the mail of U.S. citizens, and the same rule will apply to email under a new bill proposed to the California Legislature.

Senate Bill 467, proposed by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, requires state law-enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before asking service providers to give them private citizens' emails.

"No law enforcement agency could obtain someone's mail or letters that were delivered to their home without first securing a search warrant, but that same protection is surprisingly not extended to our digital life," Leno said in a statement. "Both state and federal privacy laws have failed to keep up with the modern electronic age, and government agencies are frequently able to access sensitive and personal information, including email, without adequate oversight. SB 467 repairs the existing holes in California's digital protection laws, ensuring that electronic communications can only be accessed by law enforcement with a warrant."

The bill serves to protect citizens from loopholes that exist in current law, according to a statement from its sponsor, the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

It notes that law enforcement has long claimed that investigators do not need a warrant so seize email that has been opened or stored on a server for 180 days, but that the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legal Policy supports the requirement of a warrant in those cases.

Calling the legislation a "step in the right direction," the EFF also emphasized the need to do much more for digital privacy.

"California, the home of many technology companies, should be a leader in protecting the privacy of people's electronic communications," EFF staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury said in a statement. "Many of the state's technology companies have already indicated that they require a search warrant before disclosing the contents of communications. With SB 467, the warrant requirement becomes the status quo for all electronic communication providers and all law enforcement agencies across the state. We're happy to work with Senator Leno in ensuring our privacy protections keep up with the rapid changes in technology."

The bill also counts the California American Civil Liberties Union among its supporters.

"Californians shouldn't have to choose between using modern technology and protecting their privacy," said Nicole Ozer, technology & civil liberties policy director for ACLU California, in a statement. "SB 467 would ensure that content stored in the cloud receives the same level of protection as content stored on a laptop or in a desk drawer."

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