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Everything you need to know about California's new Electronic Communications Privacy Act

Everything you need to know about California's new Electronic Communications Privacy Act
California just upped its electronic communications privacy game with a new law. (PR Newswire)

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act on Friday in what the American Civil Liberties Union described as a "landmark victory" for digital privacy.

Here's a quick primer on what it's about and how it might affect you.

1. What is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act?

A new law that bars any state law enforcement agency from getting its hands on any user data without first obtaining a warrant from a judge. This includes private user data stored online, emails, digital documents, text messages and location information.

2. Does it go by any other names?

You might see it referred to a CalECPA or its original bill name, SB 178.

3. Wait, so law enforcement agencies could easily access my data before?

Not quite. In the past, law enforcement agencies could request user data from technology companies without a warrant. It didn't necessarily mean the companies had to comply, but sometimes, they did.

4. How often were these requests happening?

According to the authors of the bill — state Sens. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) — AT&T received more than 64,000 demands for location information in 2014; Verizon received more than 15,000 demands for location data in the first half of 2014, and only one-third of those came with a warrant. In its own transparency report, Twitter revealed that it received 4,363 government data requests in the first half of 2015, around half of which were in the U.S. It complied 80% of the time.

5. Does the act make any exceptions?

It sure does.

If an owner of a device gives a government entity permission to access data on that device, or if a government entity (say, the police) believes a device has been lost or stolen, it can access it to try to identity, verify or contact the owner.

There's also an emergency provision. If the government entity believes that "an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requires access to the electronic device information," then it can go ahead and access the information. The agency still will have to file for a warrant within three days of obtaining the data, though.

6. Do any other states have similar protections?

Only Maine and Utah have similarly comprehensive protections.

7. Who supported this bill?

A laundry list of technology companies and activists, including Apple, Airbnb, Google, Facebook, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Twitter and Microsoft.


8. Where can I find the full text of the bill?

Right here! Bonus: It's a pretty accessible read as far as bills are concerned.

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Twitter: @traceylien

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