California surfs the digital data privacy wave

There has been a lot of excitement this week about EU-US data sharing in the light of the Schrems judgment (see not least the stream of posts on the judgment on our very own Panopticon). Of course what triggered the Schrems litigation was the Snowden revelations concerning Prism, the US government’s mass surveillance programme, revelations which themselves forced an intensive debate on the protection of digital privacy rights on both sides of the Atlantic. Against that background, it is very interesting to learn that yesterday the Californian Governor, Jerry Brown, signed into law an Electronic Communications Privacy Act designed to place substantial controls around the accessing of digital communications by law enforcement agencies (see further the report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation here). This important legislative development, which essentially subjects the access regime to a system of judicial warrants, suggests that California is very much ahead of the curve within the US when it comes to recognising the need to ensure greater protection for data privacy rights within the digital environment. It is also worth noting that the tech companies themselves appear to have played a strong role in the achievement of this more privacy-sensitive approach to law enforcement. This is hardly surprising given the impact which the Snowden revelations have had on consumer trust in the tech giants of Silicon Valley. It remains to be seen whether the pro-privacy stance being adopted in California is going to attract law-makers in the States as a whole. However, it is interesting to note that the new law in California was itself born out of a bipartisan bill, something which itself reconfirms the fact that the protection of privacy rights is an issue which transcends traditional party politics.

Anya Proops