A New Year for Digital Privacy

Jan 05, 2016
Chris Conley

Page Media

man looking into his smart phone - shutterstock

It’s a new year, and that means it’s time to move on from the past and turn towards the future. Put those holiday decorations back in boxes for the foreseeable future. Find a new strategy to ensure that you’re really going to live up to your resolutions this time. And enjoy a new era of digital privacy in California as CalECPA (SB 178) goes into effect.

As of January 1, CalECPA gives Californians “America’s best-ever online privacy law.” It requires law enforcement to get a warrant before searching our digital information – not just our emails and photos but “metadata” including our contact lists, viewing histories, and more. It requires that anyone targeted with a warrant be notified that their information was demanded. And it gives individuals and service providers an opportunity to push back against illegal or overbroad demands for information.

CalECPA makes it clear that the California government cannot search your cell phone without a warrant or your consent. It can’t go behind your back and demand to know which YouTube videos you’ve watched or what photos you store in the cloud. It can still get the information it needs to keep you safe, but with judicial oversight and notice to ensure that power is used properly rather than abused.

So 2016 marks the beginning of a new age in California. We also hope it marks the beginning of a movement for digital privacy across the country. With Congress slow to pass even modest digital privacy laws (a current bill to require a warrant for communications contents is currently stuck in committee despite overwhelming support), it’s up to the states to protect their own citizens and send a clear message to D.C. in the process. Here’s hoping that by the end of 2016, Californians are not the only ones celebrating their new digital privacy law.

Chris Conley is a Technology & Civil Liberties Policy Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.