California Location Privacy Act is Heading toward the Governor's Desk

By: Chris Conley

Today the Location Privacy Act of 2012 passed through the California Assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support. This is a critical step in protecting the privacy of all Californians in our modern world where a cell phone is closer to a necessity than a luxury.

We shouldn't have to choose between using our smartphone and protecting our privacy. Unfortunately, outdated laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (yes, 1986!) do not provide the clear protection that sensitive information like location history - which can reveal your friends, activities, habits, and more - deserve. As a result, law enforcement agencies in California and elsewhere treat access to location information as a "routine tool" and frequently obtain this sensitive data with little or no judicial oversight.

The Location Privacy Act of 2012 addresses this by providing a clear rule for all location data: get a warrant. A search warrant standard for all location information, whether derived from a GPS "beeper" or demanded from a wireless provider, ensures that law enforcement retains a method of obtaining location information when necessary while requiring judicial oversight and a higher standard to ensure that tracking a person's every move is no longer seen as "routine."

While legislators in Washington sit idly waiting for November's election, California has an opportunity to once again take the lead in defending our individual rights. We applaud the California legislature for passing SB 1434, and we urge Governor Brown to sign it and bring California's privacy law up to speed with our modern, mobile world.

Chris Conley is the Technology and Civil Liberties Fellow with the ACLU of Northern California.