California Senate backs requiring warrants when police want emails

State Sen. Mark Leno has won Senate approval of an email-privacy bill.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

SACRAMENTO -- The state Senate on Monday approved a measure that would expand instances in which law enforcement officers in California would have to get search warrants before they can access the public’s email.

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) won Republican support for his privacy measure after including an exemption for emergency situations in which there is a risk of the destruction of evidence.

Leno said clear rules are needed to provide the same protection to email that is extended to regular, paper mail in state law. Leno said there are gaps in federal law that could allow access to emails more than 180 days old without a warrant.

“Before any of our emails can be accessed by law enforcement, a warrant will be needed,” he told his colleagues before the 33-1 vote on SB 467.

Sen. Stephen Knight (R-Palmdale), a former LAPD officer, said the privacy rule is reasonable.


“It makes perfect sense from a public safety standpoint,” Knight said. “This is what we should demand.”

The measure is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, California Newspaper Publishers Assn. and Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The measure is opposed by the California District Attorneys Assn. as unnecessary and duplicative of federal law. The association added the state proposal will cause confusion by extending the rules to private computer systems not available to the public.

The bill next goes to the state Assembly for consideration.


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