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California to Require Warrants for Stingrays

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Oct 9, 2015, 7:34 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law that prohibits the government from snooping on citizens' electronic communications without first obtaining a warrant. The law, called the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act, forbids the government from "accessing electronic device information by means of physical interaction or electronic communication with the device." For example, police will no longer be able to use stingrays unless they get permission from a judge to do so. Stingrays act like cell towers and trick phones into connecting with them. Once connected, police are able to pull location, call, messaging, and other data from handsets in bulk. One complaint about stingrays centers on the fact that they collect data on thousands of innocent citizens while police search for specific devices. The law was backed by the ACLU and tech companies including Airbnb, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Its broad language means it can be applied to future technologies if needed. "Governor Brown just signed a law that says 'no' to warrantless government snooping in our digital information. This is a landmark win for digital privacy and all Californians," said Nicole Ozer, an ACLU lawyer. California isn't the first to enact such legislation. Similar laws already exist in Minnesota, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. The law covers California-based law enforcement, but not federal organizations.

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