Governor Brown Vetoes Location Privacy Act

By: Chris Conley

The Location Privacy Act of 2012 was intended to ensure the privacy of Californians by requiring law enforcement and other government entities to get a search warrant before obtaining information about the location of an electronic device. As a result, it garnered broad bipartisan support in its passage through the California legislature. Unfortunately, Governor Brown ignored this support and chose to veto the bill, leaving Californians with uncertain protection for these sensitive person data.

Location information and mobile devices can help individuals reach their destination or find the nearest coffee shop, but they also can reveal the intimate details of a person's life, from her visits to a clinic or support group to her religious and political activities to how—and with whom!—she spends her time. It is essential that this kind of information be protected from warrantless snooping. Without adequate protections, anyone could be monitored whenever he or she carries a cell phone or simply goes out in public without the oversight and checks and balances that our Constitution requires.

Governor Brown had an opportunity to once again make California a leader in protecting individual rights. Instead, he has left our state mired in legal uncertainty, forced to wait for the courts or the federal government to determine the legal protections that apply to our sensitive location information. This despite the fact that several California law enforcement agencies already get a warrant before obtaining location information, demonstrating that doing so does not prevent our police from doing their job.

This is not the end of the story, however; the California and federal courts have yet to weigh in on the practice of warrantless location tracking, and we will fight there for the protection that we were unfortunately denied today.

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