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Bill Would Require Search Warrants For Digital Files

Grant Hutchinson, flickr
 

Grant Hutchinson, flickr

Law enforcement officers need a warrant if they want to search your house. A bill in the California Legislature would require they also get one to search your email.

The bill is sponsored by the ACLU of Northern California. It would require that law enforcement agencies obtain a warrant to search digital files, such as emails or documents saved on a "cloud" server.

ACLU attorney Chris Conley says the state’s privacy laws must be updated to reflect modern times.

"SB 178 is designed to make sure that these records have the same degree of protection as the files in a briefcase or the files on our laptop computer at home would have," he says.

Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed three similar bills in the last three years. But Conley says the circumstances are different with this bill. For example, he says, tech companies such as Apple and Google support it.

"Players in the digital economy, major companies and start-ups alike, are recognizing that it’s important for them to reinforce to their users that they are taking steps to protect information," he says. "Including making sure the government only accesses information when it’s appropriate."

But some law enforcement groups are not on board. The California State Sheriff’s Association says the bill contains unnecessary reporting requirements and would undermine investigations. The California District Attorneys Association says the measure violates the California Constitution.

The bill's next committee hearing is in the spring.