Chris Conley of the ACLU of Northern California writes:
Today the Location Privacy Act of 2012 passed through the California Assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support. This is a critical step in protecting the privacy of all Californians in our modern world where a cell phone is closer to a necessity than a luxury.
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 Unfortunately, outdated laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (yes, 1986!)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.
The Location Privacy Act of 2012 addresses this by providing a clear rule for all location data: get a warrant. A search warrant standard for all location information, whether derived from a GPS “beeper” or demanded from a wireless provider, ensures that law enforcement retains a method of obtaining location information when necessary while requiring judicial oversight and a higher standard to ensure that tracking a person’s every move is no longer seen as “routine.”
While legislators in Washington sit idly waiting for November’s election, California has an opportunity to once again take the lead in defending our individual rights. We applaud the California legislature for passing SB 1434, and we urge Governor Brown to sign it and bring California’s privacy law up to speed with our modern, mobile world.
Once again, the states leap ahead of a Congress that has been mired in hearings that produce bills that often never get out committee or to the floor. The issue of location privacy is a critical one in today’s world, and we should have uniform Fourth Amendment-based protections on a national level. Such laws would not apply to private employers tracking their employees, but would apply to government efforts to obtain our data.
Congress has known for a long time that ECPA desperately needs updating. Will it now scurry to pass a federal law to try to over-ride what California may be ready to enact?