Leno Bill Modernizing Digital Privacy Protections Clears Key Hurdle

Legislation that modernizes California’s privacy laws to keep up with emerging technologies passed a key Assembly committee today. Senate Bill 178, authored by Senator Leno, protects Californians against warrantless government access to private electronic communications such as emails, text messages and GPS data that are stored in the cloud and on smartphones, tablets, laptops and other digital devices. The bill passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee with a 5-0 vote.

“California’s privacy laws have not kept up with technological advances, as is illustrated by the fact that a letter in your desk drawer at home enjoys more privacy protections than the same letter stored in your email,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “It’s time to bring our data privacy laws into the 21st century.”

SB 178, also known as the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (Cal-ECPA), ensures that law enforcement officials obtain a warrant before accessing a person’s digital information. Cal-ECPA protects all electronic communications, including personal messages, passwords and PIN numbers, GPS data, photos, medical and financial information, contacts and metadata. Exceptions to the warrant requirement are included in the legislation so that law enforcement officers can continue to effectively and efficiently protect public safety, respond to emergencies and combat online criminal activities.

Cal-ECPA is jointly authored by Republican Senator Joel Anderson and is co-sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation and California Newspaper Publishers Association. It is also supported by the California Chamber of Commerce, California Correctional Peace Officers Association, Consumer Federation and more than a dozen tech companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter.

The Assembly Public Safety Committee today also passed a second bill authored by Senator Leno. Senate Bill 694 establishes a fair standard for proving one’s innocence in California by ensuring that, in the rare instance of an innocent person being convicted, there is a fair and reasonable path to clearing that person’s name if new evidence is later found to support the claim of innocence.

Both SB 178 and SB 694 will be heard next in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.