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Government Surveillance

A Major Win for Privacy: California ECPA Signed into Law

Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA), which enshrines into law a warrant requirement for digital information — including content, location information, and metadata — for California law enforcement agencies. This is a historic win for privacy; we hope that other states and Congress take up the call to modernize protections for electronic data.

CDT has been involved in the CalECPA effort for the past year, working alongside the ACLU of Northern California and EFF to build a broad coalition of advocacy organizations, companies, and leading academic voices in support of the bill. As we have said on many occasions, constitutional protections for our letters and papers shouldn’t go away when our information is online. With the prevalence of data and devices that create a robust record of our lives — whom we email, where we go, and what we say to family, friends, and colleagues — it’s more important than ever that we feel confident that our data remains safe from warrantless snooping. CalECPA’s foundation in the core principles of the Digital Due Process coalition, which CDT leads, ensures that the warrant standard applies to both digital and analog communications.

While this is a victory for Californians, the fight isn’t over. Federal ECPA reform, which currently has over 300 bipartisan supporters in the House of Representatives, remains stalled due to the obstructionist tactics of several federal administrative agencies. Congress should take such a clear signal from the nation’s most populous state and acknowledge that the time to modernize privacy law is today. If states are the laboratories of democracy, it’s time Congress replicated California’s experiment and enacted comprehensive ECPA reform, as we have long advocated.