The California Legislature is on the brink of passing S.B. 178, the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA). This bill would bring long overdue reforms to how law enforcement searches our digital records by requiring a warrant to access our emails, locational information, documents, and other files.

This week, we’re happy to report that all of the state’s major law enforcement associations removed their opposition, taking a neutral stance on the legislation. Beyond that, the San Diego Police Officers Association (SDPOA), representing 1,850 sworn officers, now actively supports CalECPA.

As SDPOA President Brian Marvel wrote in a letter to the bill’s author Sen. Mark Leno:

In its current form, SB 178 strengthens community relationships and increases transparency without impeding on law enforcement’s ability to serve the needs of their communities. This bill does so by providing a clear process for government or law enforcement agencies seeking access to electronic information such as data stored on cell phones, electronic devices, emails, and digital documents.

SB 178 modernizes the current law to account for assuring privacy of personal information of Californians regardless of the format in which it is stored. We believe this bill is in the best interest of all citizens of California. 

This letter underscores what EFF also strongly believes—privacy  is not in conflict with public safety. Instead, updating electronic privacy law for the modern digital age protects people in two ways: safeguarding rights and supporting police’s ability to effectively and efficiently do their jobs.

All lawmakers need to do is stand up to the governor.

CalECPA creates a clear standard for government searches

Currently, the law and court rulings have generated a lot of complexity about when a warrant is required for digital records, particularly those held by third party online services, such as Google or Twitter.  Some companies say that they require a warrant for data. Others do not. S.B. 178 would create a unified standard across the state, allowing investigators to know exactly what they need to do to get the information they need. With a clearly defined law, investigators can be more confident that they followed due process when they bring a case against a suspect.

CalECPA does not hinder law enforcement’s ability to react to emergencies

Generally, investigators would need to get a warrant before accessing data. But, in emergency situations—when there is danger of death or serious bodily injury—police can proceed, as long as they later explain the emergency to the court . This is a meaningful accountability measure that also serves the interests of public safety.

Law enforcement officers also deserve privacy guarantees 

Being a police officer and being a member of the public are not mutually exclusive. In other words, when the legislature protects the privacy of Californians, that includes law enforcement officers, and their families, too.

CalECPA improves trust between police and the community

Over the last few years, local law enforcement agencies have come under intense scrutiny over the use of sophisticated surveillance technologies, often without limit. By supporting S.B. 178, SDPOA has sent a clear message that its members support privacy as a community value and their commitment to finding the right balance between civil liberties and public safety.

The time is now for other California law enforcement to also stand up and support S.B. 178.

Update: As of Sept. 4, 2015, California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) has withdrawn its support of S.B. 178. 

Related Issues