Cell Phone

Smartphones, and the electronic information found on them, are protected from warrantless searches under Senate Bill 178, signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown. (Randall Benton/The Sacramento Bee)

Capitol Alert
By Alexei Koseff
October 8, 2015

Gov. Jerry Brown has rebooted his thinking on protecting personal digital information from police searches.

After rejecting several similar proposals in years past, Brown on Thursday signed the sweeping Senate Bill 178, which will require law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants before accessing someone’s electronic devices or requesting the private communications stored on them, such as e-mails, text messages and geolocation data.

“Tell me how a letter in your mailbox should have more protection than an e-mail in the cloud,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, the bill’s author. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Backed by the tech industry, SB 178 received bipartisan support on its way to the governor’s desk, though it ran into trouble in the Assembly after some lawmakers raised late concerns about its effect on child pornography investigations. The measure includes exemptions for instances where a loss of life or evidence is imminent, which Leno said helped remove law enforcement opposition that had stifled previous efforts.

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