Backed by a number of tech companies, California is eyeing state legislation to protect its citizens from warrantless government surveillance of e-mails, text messages and cellphone communications. The proposed legislation is being backed by state senators Mark Leno, a Democrat, and Joel Anderson, a Republican.
The proposal, Senate Bill 178, is also known as the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act. It would require law enforcement officials to first obtain warrants before accessing Californians' digital information or communications.
Among the tech companies backing the proposed legislation are Engine, Facebook, Google, Mozilla and Twitter. The measure also has the support of numerous state and national consumer groups, civil rights groups and privacy advocates.
California Protections 'in Dark Ages'
"When it comes to digital privacy protections, California is in the dark ages," Leno said. "The personal files in your desk drawer at home cannot be seized without a warrant, but the digital files on your smartphone and tablet, no matter how sensitive, do not have the same protection."
The proposed legislation "strikes the right balance between safeguarding Californians against improper government intrusion of their electronic data and protecting the right of law enforcement to use technology when it is needed to protect public safety," Leno said.
"Especially after revelations of warrantless surveillance by the NSA (U.S. National Security Agency), it is time for California to catch up with other states across the nation, including Texas and Maine, which have already updated their privacy laws for the modern digital world," said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of California.
Other States Already On Board
Leno's office noted that five states, including Utah and Hawaii, have already enacted laws to protect the privacy of digital communications. Indiana, Montana, Tennessee and six other states also have laws on the books to protect the privacy of location-revealing GPS information.
The proposed California bill would protect against warrantless surveillance of all kinds of electronic communications, including personal messages, passwords and PINs, GPS data, photos, medical and financial information, contacts and metadata. The proposal allows for exceptions to protect public safety in case of emergencies.
Senate Bill 178 is expected to come up for policy committee hearings sometime this spring. Other organizations backing the legislation include the ACLU of California, Apple, Dropbox, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Microsoft.
The wide reach of warrantless government spying, in particular by the NSA, first came to light when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras with a massive trove of classified security documents in Hong Kong in 2013.