Bill to Stop Police Cellphone Intrusions Passes Legislature

Bill to Stop Police Cellphone Intrusions Passes Legislature
File photo by K?rlis Dambr?ns/Flickr

A bill that would prohibit police from prying into your cellphone without a warrant was passed by the California Legislature this week.

The bipartisan legislation, passed by the Assembly (56-11) and already approved by the Senate, will go back to the upper house for a virtual rubber stamping before heading to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown for his consideration. It could be signed into law in a matter of days — if Brown is amenable.

It would make cops get a judge's signature in most cases before they could access "a person’s private information, including data from personal electronic devices, email, digital documents, text messages and location information," according to a summary.

Until recently, police in California could and did search the contents of suspects' iPhones upon arrest. You could have all kinds of dirty, nasty stuff on your phone — like your bank account information, or your salary — and officers could take a look if you were under arrest.

Courts upheld and then struck down the practice. Senate bill authors Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, and Joel Anderson, a San Diego County Republican, wanted to ensure that the specter of cops snooping in your private data at the jailhouse didn't happen again.

In a statement, the ACLU called yesterday's vote "a tremendous victory" for what's known as the California Electronic Privacy Act.

"Now is the time for Governor Brown to sign CalECPA into law and update California’s privacy laws for the modern digital age,” said Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director at the ACLU of California, which backed the bill. “Californians overwhelmingly want to see change and make sure police get a warrant before accessing our private emails, text messages, and tracking our cellphones. CalECPA makes sure this happens."

The legislation is supported by L.A. area Assemblyman Mike Gatto as well as by Apple, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn Dropbox and the Internet Association.

A recent survey of 900 likely California voters found that 82 percent support requiring a warrant before police can get a look inside your digital devices.

"While technology has advanced exponentially, California’s communications laws are stuck in the Dark Ages, leaving our personal emails, text messages, photos and smartphones increasingly vulnerable to warrantless searches," said Leno. "CalECPA was carefully crafted to ensure that the personal information of Californians of all ages is adequately protected and our law enforcement has the tools they need to fight crime in the digital age. The bill strikes just the right balance to protect privacy, spur innovation and safeguard public safety."

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