Californians can rest assured that law enforcement can’t poke around in their digital records without first obtaining a warrant. Today, Gov. Jerry Brown has signed S.B. 178, the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA).

After months of pressure from public interest groups, media organizations, privacy advocates, tech companies, and thousands of members of the public, California’s elected leaders have updated the state’s privacy laws so that they are in line with how people actually use technology today.

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.

Here’s what the bill’s authors had to say about the victory:

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco)

For too long, California’s digital privacy laws have been stuck in the Dark Ages, leaving our personal emails, text messages, photos and smartphones increasingly vulnerable to warrantless searches. That ends today with the Governor’s signature of CalECPA, a carefully crafted law that protects personal information of all Californians. The bill also ensures that law enforcement officials have the tools they need to continue to fight crime in the digital age.

Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine)

Senator Leno and I helped bridge the gap between progressives and conservatives to make the privacy of Californians a top priority this year. This bipartisan bill protects Californians’ basic civil liberties as the Fourth Amendment and the California Constitution intended.

EFF, along with the ACLU and the California Newspaper Publishers Association, sponsored the bill from the very beginning, recognizing how the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure is inherently tied to freedom of speech. Tech corporations also recognized that, following two years of government spying scandals, consumers have lost trust in the companies’ ability to protect their digital information. In response, Silicon Valley’s major players, including Adobe, Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, Dropbox, Google, and Twitter, all threw their support behind the bill. After months of negotiation, the state’s major law enforcement organizations also withdrew their opposition, stating that the bill struck an appropriate balance between public safety and privacy. The San Diego Police Officers Association further lent its endorsement to S.B. 178, arguing that clear processes for obtaining data would improve their ability to do their jobs, while also protecting privacy. 

CalECPA’s passage marks a significant milestone in the campaign to update computer privacy laws, which have been stuck in the 1980s. We hope that California’s success will lend momentum to the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Contact your senators and representatives today and urge them to extend these protections nationwide. 


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