California Increases Scrutiny Of Cellphone Surveillance
by Ali Winston, The Center For Investigative Reporting
In a scene soon to be repeated across California, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley answered a raft of questions earlier this week from the county Board of Supervisors and members of the public about her office’s plan to purchase a controversial package of technology to track cellphones.
The prosecutor’s office, along with the Fremont and Oakland police departments, has been planning since 2013 to buy a Harris Corp. Hailstorm cell-site simulator and a KEYW Corp. Thoracic tracking device with federal homeland security grant money. But now O’Malley is at the vanguard of the kind of additional scrutiny all jurisdictions soon will face, thanks to two state laws recently signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown that mandate more public input and oversight of the purchase and use of such equipment.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act means law enforcement will need a search warrant for access to digital records, including data, content, metadata and geolocation information stored on a device or server. The law also calls for warrants to search electronic devices, a requirement previously affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2014 decision.
The new law has been hailed by privacy advocates as the most comprehensive electronic privacy regulations in the United States. For instance, it will restrict law enforcement officials’ ability to accuse people of crimes based entirely or in part on communications obtained through electronic intercepts.
The other recently passed law requires local government agencies to notify the public when law enforcement seeks to acquire a cell-site simulator to track transmissions and the location of individual mobile devices.