Last week, the California legislature passed one of the nation’s most restrictive bills governing law enforcement’s ability to access location information. Under the California Location Privacy Act, state and local government agencies would be required to secure search warrants before obtaining historical or current location information for any electronic device. The California bill would curtail some of the law enforcement practices described in this New York Times article, which noted that cellphone carriers responded to 1.3 million law enforcement demands in 2011 — many of which came in the form of subpoenas, emergency requests, or other demands that can be less legally burdensome to secure than warrants.
The California bill contains only a few narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement, such as responding to a user’s 911 call; with a user’s informed, affirmative consent; or in emergencies involving immediate danger of death or serious physical injury. In the final round of amendments, the bill’s sponsors added an immunity provision for providers of location information: the Act is not to be construed “to create a cause of action against any foreign or California corporation, its officers, employees, agents, or other specified persons, for providing location information.”