Police can’t grab your data or hack your stuff in California without a warrant

by Steve Blum • ,

It’s still okay to ask politely, though.

California now has “the nation’s best digital privacy law“, or at least that’s how the Electronic Communications Privacy Act is being described in the press. Governor Brown signed the bill on Thursday. It requires a police officer or any other government employee or agency to get a search warrant before seizing electronic data or trying to access it without permission.

According to the analysis prepared for the state senate

The warrant shall describe with particularity the information to be seized, including by specifying the time periods covered, and as appropriate and reasonable, the target individuals or accounts, the applications or services covered, and the types of information sought;

The warrant shall require that any obtained information unrelated to the objective of the warrant shall be sealed and not subject to further review, use, or disclosure unless a court issues an order that there is probable cause to believe that the information is relevant to an active investigation, or is otherwise required by state or federal law.

Cops can still ask you or your service provider for information and the bill…

Authorizes a service provider to voluntarily disclose electronic communication information or subscriber information when that disclosure is not otherwise prohibited by state or federal law.

Agencies that receive information voluntarily generally can’t keep it for more than 90 days without consent of the owner or a court order. The new law also allows a court to order a service provider not to disclose that customer information has been turned over, “under emergency circumstances”. If you or your company or your service provider end up in court, normal procedures still apply: judges can order information to be turned over.

So cops can ask for information or get a search warrant. But they can’t just grab a device or hack in and take a look for themselves.