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Digital Searches Now Require Warrants in California

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on October 14, 2015 9:59 AM

A new law in California ensures that law enforcement can't snoop around your digital data without first obtaining a warrant. The California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA) is the final result of months of pressure from Silicon Valley groups, media organization, and privacy advocates.

What's Protected

Digital records are protected under CalECPA. Texts, emails, all electronic communications, and notably, the users geographical location. This information not only cover the data that is stored on your phone, but also the data that is stored online and on the cloud.

This should come as a major relief for those who walk around paranoid that the government might be snooping into their private data through the use of "stingray" trackers. This law effectively makes that illegal. Will that stop the government from using them? Well, we'll have to wait and see.

Reactions by the Authors

Senator Mark Leno reacted favorably with the signing. He had described California's digital privacy laws as being "stuck in the Dark Ages", leaving personal communications vulnerable to warrantless searches. Senator Joel Anderson, who co-authored the bill with Leno, stated that the bill was a bipartisan protection of Californian's Constitutional Rights and 4th Amendment liberties.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation

It's not surprise that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been driving force of this bill (now law) from the very beginning. The electronic free speech watch dog group was born out of a federal government raid debacle that left Steve Jackson's business nearly ruined. Silicon Valley tech companies were also very sanguine for an opportunity to make amends for what proved to be a damaging PR episodes when it was revealed that Google, AT&T, and other tech giants were complicit in the NSA's PRISM spying program. Thus, pretty much any tech company one can name threw its support behind the bill.

The EFF is hopeful that the passage of SB 178 will "lend momentum" to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the nationwide equivalent of California's newest electronic privacy law.

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