Privacy SOS

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoes privacy legislation

Despite heroic organizing efforts by California ACLU affiliates and the EFF, among other organizations, Californians will not be able to breathe easier knowing that the police are required to get a warrant in order to track them through their electronics — not this year, at least. That's because Democratic Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the location privacy bill on Sunday. Explaining his veto, the Governor wrote:

It may be that legislative action is needed to keep the law current in our rapidly evolving electronic age…But I am not convinced that this bill strikes the right balance between the operational needs of law enforcement and the individual expectation of privacy.

Governor Brown also vetoed a bill that would have required police to get a court order in order to shut down cell phone service. Well, not exactly. The bill allowed agencies six hours to get a court order after shutting down cell phone service, in order to ensure that immediate emergency operations could be dealt with before getting court approval. The six hour window notwithstanding, the Governor didn't think a court order was appropriate, writing that requiring police to go to a court within six hours would "divert attention" from emergency rescue operations. That seems like a stretch. Cities and counties can't spare one prosecutor or police officer in an emergency to go to court, even within six hours of an event?

The legislature passed the bill requiring a court order in response to outrage over the BART cell phone shutdown of 2011, when transit police shut down mobile service during political protests. Those protests had nothing to do with emergency rescue operations, and the bill was meant to prevent precisely the attack on free speech that the BART cell phone service shut down entailed. Unfortunately, Governor Brown's veto ignored this real-world problem, inventing an unlikely doomsday scenario to justify his veto, and thereby appears to have given a green light to precisely the kind of antidemocratic attack on speech and association the bill was meant to stop.

There's more. The California Governor's veto pen made one final, troubling mark this weekend, sending the TRUST Act back to the legislature without his signature. The TRUST Act was California's anti-SB1070, a rebuff of the Obama administration's so-called "Secure Communities" (S-COMM) immigration program, which requires local law enforcement to send arrest information to federal immigration authorities. The TRUST Act would have limited California's participation with S-COMM. 

To his credit, there were some positive outcomes among this flurry of disappointing decisions: Governor Brown signed a bill reforming life without parole for juveniles and also approved legislation allowing undocumented minors to procure drivers licenses.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.