California Now Requires Warrant for Digital Search

The signing of a new privacy bill was celebrated by privacy advocates and major technology companies alike.

by / October 9, 2015
California Sen. Mark Leno Flickr/ProComKelly

On Oct. 8, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill (SB 178) that requires law enforcement to obtain a search warrant before looking at digital communications like email, text messages and GPS data.

The bill, which was supported by tech companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the California Newspaper Publishers Association, was Sen. Mark Leno's attempt to reconcile outdated privacy laws with relatively new technology.

“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,” Leno told the Los Angeles Times. “That ends today with ... a carefully crafted law that protects personal information of all Californians."

The bill had its opponents, including the National Association to Protect Children, an advocacy group from Tennessee that argues greater barriers for law enforcement's pursuit of evidence could allow some criminals to destroy incriminating evidence before it's found.

“On the surface, SB 178 looks like a fine bill that tries to protect privacy from government overreach,” a statement from the group reads. ”However, it is an ill-thought-out piece of legislation that will have dire consequences for the men and women on the front lines of the fight to stop child exploitation and human trafficking."

California's precedent is an example that the rest of the country, also still largely unsophisticated when it comes to privacy law, can watch and learn from.

NEW ON THE PODCAST

Tech Startups Can Help Revitalize Both Ends of Your Ballot