Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown signs electronic search warrant law

Smartphones, and the electronic information found on them, are protected from warrantless searches under Senate Bill 178, signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Smartphones, and the electronic information found on them, are protected from warrantless searches under Senate Bill 178, signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown. The Sacramento Bee file

Gov. Jerry Brown has rebooted his thinking on protecting personal digital information from police searches.

After rejecting several similar proposals in years past, Brown on Thursday signed the sweeping Senate Bill 178, which will require law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants before accessing someone’s electronic devices or requesting the private communications stored on them, such as e-mails, text messages and geolocation data.

“Tell me how a letter in your mailbox should have more protection than an e-mail in the cloud,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, the bill’s author. “It doesn't make sense.”

Backed by the tech industry, SB 178 received bipartisan support on its way to the governor’s desk, though it ran into trouble in the Assembly after some lawmakers raised late concerns about its effect on child pornography investigations. The measure includes exemptions for instances where a loss of life or evidence is imminent, which Leno said helped remove law enforcement opposition that had stifled previous efforts.

Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 573, a proposal to provide financial relief and legal aid for thousands of students affected by the abrupt closure this spring of the for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges.

In his message, Brown expressed reservations about the cost associated with the bill, which would have offered tuition recovery and assistance for those seeking loan forgiveness, waived fees for students transferring to community colleges, and restored Cal Grant financial aid eligibility.

While “well-intentioned,” he wrote, “I am not comfortable creating new General Fund costs outside of the budget process, particularly given the Cal Grant augmentations already included in this year’s budget.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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