Second Try at California Electronic Privacy Bill | Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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Tuesday, November 28, 2023 | Back issues
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Second Try at California Electronic Privacy Bill

SACRAMENTO (CN) - A bill that would require law enforcement agencies to secure a warrant before seizing U.S. citizens' digital communications and electronic devices was re-introduced Monday in the California Legislature.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, proposed the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalEPCA), or SB 178 .

It would prohibit government entities from forcing service providers to hand over electronic communication information without a warrant, and from getting information from an electronic device from anyone except "the authorized possessor of the device."

The law would also prevent electronic device information access "by means of physical or electronic communication with the device, except with the specific consent of the authorized possessor of the device."

In sum, a warrant would be required to get personal information from mobile devices, emails, text messages, contact lists and photos, and to get information about users' location.

California once led the country in trying to protect electronic privacy, introducing bills with varying protections beginning in 2011, but now lags behind 15 other states, including Texas, Utah, Hawaii and Maine, which have passed electronic privacy laws.

"When it comes to privacy protections, California is in the digital dark ages," Leno said in a statement. "The personal files in your desk drawer at home cannot be seized without warrant, but your electronic information, no matter how sensitive, does not have the same protection. This bill strikes a perfect balance between safeguarding Californians against improper government intrusion of their electronic data and protecting the ability of law enforcement to use technology when it is needed to protect public safety."

If passed, the law would put California in compliance with a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Riley v. California, which required a warrant to search a cell phone.

Leno proposed an electronic privacy bill (SB 467) in 2013 , which unanimously passed both houses with overwhelming bipartisan support, but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

It was the third such bill Brown vetoed in as many years.

The bill could finally clear the last hurdle this year, some supporters say.

"What's different with this is that at the time the three bills were proposed, California was trying something new and there wasn't a huge consensus about the law, but in the intervening two years since the last veto, a lot has happened," Electronic Frontier Foundation senior attorney Hanni Fakoury told Courthouse News.

"The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Riley v. California reaffirmed the idea that digital information should be protected. Other states have stepped up and passed legislation that does what California's law would do. The bill is comprehensive this time around and has the support of many major tech companies."

Supporters of the bill include Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, and Google, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the Center for Media Justice, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Several California law enforcement agencies did not respond to requests for comments.

Fakoury said he has seen no indication whether Brown intends to veto the bill. In 2013, he announced early his intention to veto SB 467.

If the Legislature approves the bill, it will find its way to Brown's desk sometime in late August or September.

Brown will then have until early October to decide whether to veto it.

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