Victory! California Senate Tells Cops to Get a Warrant

Jun 03, 2015
Will Matthews

Page Media

digital interfaces

The California Senate today took a powerful stand for privacy, voting unanimously to approve the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA).

Recognizing the urgent need to take the laws that protect our electronic information out of the digital dark ages, the Senate vote makes clear that police should have to go to a judge and get a warrant before searching our online accounts or personal devices for information about who we are, where we go, who we know and what we do.

Though the technology we use for everything from balancing our budget to finding a date is continuously evolving, the laws meant to safeguard our sensitive electronic information have remained static and fallen woefully behind the times. The government is increasingly exploiting our outdated privacy laws to turn mobile phones into tracking devices and to access sensitive emails, purchase records, digital documents and more without proper judicial oversight.

That’s why it is far past time for California to update its privacy laws – and today was an important first step.

If CalECPA were to be passed by the California Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, it would protect sensitive information and rebuild trust in online services by providing the photos on your smartphone or the emails on your Gmail account with the same protections that currently apply to the printed photos and personal letters you store in your home.

Make no mistake: CalECPA, co-authored by Sens. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Joel Anderson (R-Alpine), includes appropriate exceptions to ensure that the police can continue to effectively and efficiently protect public safety. 

But in the wake of the Snowden revelations of mass surveillance by the government, Americans are increasingly cognizant that we need to do a better job of striking a reasonable balance between security and privacy protection. Indeed, 70 percent of social networking site users are concerned about government access to their information. And companies recognize that eroding trust in technology impacts their bottom line, with cloud computing companies likely to lose as much as $35 billion as a direct result of reduced confidence in the security of online information.

That’s why CalECPA enjoys bipartisan support and has the endorsement of the nation’s leading technology companies, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft.

Take action: Become a citizen cosponsor.

You shouldn’t have to choose between using technology and keeping your personal life private. Today, thanks to the State Senate, our fight continues on to the State Assembly. Stay tuned.

Will Matthews is senior communications officer for the ACLU of Northern California.