Landmark Victory for Digital Privacy, as Gov. Brown Signs Leno’s SB 178 – The California Electronic Communications Privacy Act Protects Californians against Warrantless Law Enforcement Access to Personal Electronic Information
Posted by Melanie Nathan, October 08, 2015.
SACRAMENTO – In a landmark victory for the electronic privacy rights of all Californians, Governor Jerry Brown today signed Senator Mark Leno’s California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA, SB 178). The bill, jointly authored by Senator Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, protects Californians against warrantless law enforcement access to private electronic communications such as emails, text messages and GPS data that are stored in the cloud and on smart phones, tablets, laptops and other digital devices. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature earlier this year with strong, bipartisan support.
“For too long, California’s digital privacy laws have been stuck in the Dark Ages, leaving our personal emails, text messages, photos and smartphones increasingly vulnerable to warrantless searches,” said Senator Leno. “That ends today with the Governor’s signature of CalECPA, a carefully crafted law that protects personal information of all Californians. The bill also ensures that law enforcement officials have the tools they need to continue to fight crime in the digital age.”
SB 178 requires law enforcement to get a warrant before accessing an individual’s electronic information and includes thoughtful exceptions for law enforcement to use in the event of emergencies and other public safety needs. A diverse coalition of the state’s leading technology companies and civil rights organizations supported the bill, and California’s statewide law enforcement groups helped ensure the bill provided important public safety protections. The bill is co-sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
“Senator Leno and I helped bridge the gap between progressives and conservatives to make the privacy of Californians a top priority this year,” said Senator Anderson. “This bipartisan bill protects Californians’ basic civil liberties as the Fourth Amendment and the California Constitution intended.”
According to recent statewide polling, voters across all age groups, geographic regions and party affiliation are overwhelmingly concerned about their digital privacy. More than 80 percent of voters support requiring a warrant from authorities before they can access e-mail and Internet activity.
“Governor Brown just signed a law that says ‘no’ to warrantless government snooping of our digital information. This is a landmark win for digital privacy,” said Nicole Ozer, Technology & Civil Liberties Policy Director at the ACLU of California. “We hope this is a model for the rest of the nation in protecting our digital privacy rights.”
With Governor Brown’s signature, California now joins states as diverse as Texas, Virginia, Maine, and Utah that have already updated their privacy laws for the digital age.
“California has led the nation in technological innovation for decades, and it’s finally time for its digital privacy laws to catch up,” said Lee Tien, Senior Staff Attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Californians deserve warrant protection for their sensitive electronic communications.”
CalECPA has support from Silicon Valley’s major tech companies, including Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter. Many of these companies have seen a dramatic rise in requests from law enforcement for consumer data in recent years. Google has seen a 180 percent jump in law enforcement demands for consumer data in the past five years. Last year, AT&T received 64,000 demands – a 70 percent increase in a single year. Verizon reports that only one-third of its requests had a warrant, and last year Twitter and Tumblr received more demands from California than any other state.
“This legislation has important privacy implications for all Californians,” said Nikki Moore, Staff Attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. “We are pleased CalECPA appropriately safeguards a newspaper’s ability to gather and report news by protecting journalists and their sources from unwarranted surveillance.”