Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Digital Privacy Bill Blocking Warrantless Spying

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Thursday preventing state-level law enforcement agencies from obtaining access to citizens' private electronic communications without a warrant. He also signed a companion bill restricting the warrantless use of stingray technology by local governments.

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Democratic California Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills into law on Thursday that strengthen Californians’ digital privacy protections.

Senate Bill 178, the California Electronic Privacy Act (CalEPCA), prevents state-level investigators from obtaining a suspect’s digital communications without first securing a warrant. The law also mandates that California law enforcement agencies procure a warrant before compelling tech companies, many of which are headquartered in the state, to turn over metadata and other records.

The technology-focused publication Wired, which characterized the California Electronic Privacy Act as “the nation’s best digital privacy law,” quoted ACLU of California technology and civil liberties policy director Nicole Ozer as saying, “This is a landmark win for digital privacy and all Californians. We hope this is a model for the rest of the nation in protecting our digital privacy rights. This is really a comprehensive update for the modern digital age.

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[RELATED: California Governor Signs Assisted Suicide Bill Into Law]

Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Dave Maass wrote, “CalECPA protects Californians by requiring a warrant for digital records, including emails and texts, as well as a user’s geographical location. These protections apply not only to your devices, but to online services that store your data. Only two other states have so far offered these protections: Maine and Utah.

According to the Tenth Amendment Center, “The law also stipulates that law enforcement gather no more information than is necessary to achieve the objective of the search, and imposes other conditions on the use of the search warrant or wiretap order and the information obtained, including retention and disclosure requirements. Information obtained in violation of these provisions would be inadmissible in criminal, civil, or administrative proceedings.

Gov. Brown also signed a second bill, Senate Bill 741, which prohibits local governments in the state from acquiring stingray technology unless a bill passes through the locality in question’s legislature and requires that members of the public be given an opportunity to comment in advance of the vote. Tenth Amendment Center communications director
Mike Maharrey explained, “Cell site simulators, known as ‘stingrays,’ spoof cell phone towers. Any device within range is essentially tricked into connecting to the stingray instead of the tower, allowing law enforcement to sweep up communications content, as well as locate and track the person in possession of a specific phone or other electronic device.” He added, “Since local police generally receive these devices directly from the FBI, or through grant money provided to them by the FBI, passage of SB741 allows local communities to interpose themselves in this process and block the FBI’s programs from coming to fruition.

Under Senate Bill 741, county sheriffs can purchase stingray technology without legislative approval, but must make a public announcement if they do. The bill requires that law enforcement “maintain a usage and privacy policy in order to ensure that the collection, use, maintenance, sharing, and dissemination of information and data gathered through the use of cellular communications interception technology is consistent with respect for an individual’s privacy and civil liberties.

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