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California Legislature Approves Location Privacy Act

On Wednesday, the California legislation passed SB 1434, which requires government agencies to obtain a warrant before collecting your location-based information. All that is left is for the Governor to sign the law. The law reads:

"This bill provides that no government entity shall obtain the location information of an electronic device without a valid search warrant issued by a duly authorized magistrate."

"This bill would provide that no search warrant shall issue for the location of an electronic device pursuant to this section for a period of time longer than is necessary to achieve the objective of the authorization, nor in any event longer than 30 days, commencing on the day of the initial obtaining of location information, or 10 days after the issuance of the warrant, whichever comes first."

"This bill, as proposed to be amended, provides that extensions of a warrant may be granted, but only upon a finding of continuing probable cause by the judge or magistrate, and that the extension is necessary to achieve the objective of the authorization. Each extension granted for a warrant pursuant to this subdivision, shall be for no longer than the authorizing judge or magistrate deems necessary to achieve the purposes for which the warrant was originally granted, but in any event, shall be for no longer than 30 days."

Read SB 1434 for other provisions and exceptions. In an announcement, the ACLU emphasized the importance of this legislation:

"We shouldn't have to choose between using our smartphone and protecting our privacy. Unfortunately, outdated laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (yes, 1986!) do not provide the clear protection that sensitive information like location history - which can reveal your friends, activities, habits, and more - deserve. As a result, law enforcement agencies in California and elsewhere treat access to location information as a "routine tool" and frequently obtain this sensitive data with little or no judicial oversight."

Earlier this year, 35 ACLU chapters requested information from about 380 police departments in 31 states, and received about 200 replies. You can view the nationwide map with replies for your town and state of law enforcement tracking of consumers smart phones locations.

So now, at least in California, search warrants are required first. It will be interesting to see how this affects the use by law enforcement of automated license plate readers, which can append GPS location and other meta data (e.g., time, stop duration, nearby stores) data to scanned plates.


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