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Bill banning warrantless cellphone tracking clears California Senate

May 30, 2012|By Michelle Maltais
  • A recent study from the ACLU found a high number of law enforcement agencies track cellphone movement.
A recent study from the ACLU found a high number of law enforcement agencies… (Michelle Maltais / Los Angeles…)

California is one step closer to banning law enforcement from tapping the data from the tracking device in your palm, pocket or purse without a warrant.

The state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that requires a warrant to seek access from wireless carriers to the near-constant data stream coming from our cellphones. 

Existing law addresses only the search of places and seizure of property identified in a warrant. There's also a warrant procedure for acquiring stored communications. The bill, SB 1434, amends the state Penal Code to address location data collected by our ubiquitous electronic devices, including our mobile phones.

“In order to ensure personal privacy in California, our laws must keep pace with the technological advances of smartphones and other electronic gadgets, which contain sensitive information about our daily lives,” Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said. “This bill strikes a perfect balance to safeguard Californians against improper government intrusion while ensuring that law enforcement officials can utilize this technology when necessary to protect public safety.”

The bill, as it was originally proposed, had required wireless service providers to report annually on the requests for data from law enforcement agencies that they received and fullfilled.

The wireless industry group CTIA -- the Wireless Assn. was vocal in its opposition to the "provision that places reporting burdens on carriers rather than on the prosecutors who make these requests," Jamie Hastings, the group's vice president of external and state affairs, said in a statement to The Times before the bill's passage.

That portion was struck before passing from the Senate Public Safety Committee to the full Senate for a vote.

Henderson had also said, "CTIA defers to the Legislature and courts to determine the appropriate legal standards and process for obtaining a wireless customer’s location information. This is an important debate, and it is up to the Legislature and the courts to strike the appropriate balance between a citizen’s privacy and law enforcement’s legitimate need for information."

In addition to banning warrantless searches of location data, SB 1434 also limits search warrants to a period no longer than is necessary and not exceeding 30 days. 

The issue of electronic tracking has become a hot-button issue recently, with the U.S. Supreme Court handing down a 9-0 ruling in United States v. Jones in January that was widely cheered by privacy advocates.

Now the bill moves to the Assembly for consideration.

RELATED:

Police tracking of cellphones raises concerns

California bill would block cellphone tracking without warrant

SNOPA bill seeks to keep employers out of your private social network

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