California Senate Approves Bill Requiring Warrants to Search Electronic Devices

California Senate Approves Bill Requiring Warrants to Search Electronic Devices

On Wednesday June 3rd, California’s Senate approved a bill that will require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant in order to search a suspect’s smartphone, tablet, laptop, other electronic device, or to access information stored on remote servers.

Smartphone Warrant BillSen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who proposed the bill, states that it will bring state statute up to the 21st century in regards to privacy. “Of course law enforcement needs a warrant before it can go into your mailbox and read your mail, but it does not currently need a warrant to read your emails or text communications or other electronic communications.”

The bill was also supported by large tech companies such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook, as it provides clarification to their obligations regarding providing information to law enforcement.

The bill was opposed by the California District Attorneys Assn., the California Police Chiefs Assn. and the California State Sheriffs Assn., who claimed it unnecessary, and a burden to investigations.

Leno had introduced a similar bill in 2013, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who said the area was sufficiently covered by federal law, and that the process, which required notification to those whose devices were being searched, could harm criminal investigations.

To address this, Leno stated that SB 178, the new bill, contains a exception to the notification requirement when doing so could hamper an ongoing investigation or jeopardize efforts to protect the public.

The bill also provides exceptions for when a device’s owner gives consent to a search, as well as when law enforcement believes that an emergency situation involving imminent danger of death or serious physical injury requires access to a device or information.

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