Calif. Bill Would Require Warrant for Email Searches

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If law enforcement people want to read your communications by cards and letters, they must get a warrant. But on your computer, it's a different story.

Under a new federal plan, if you've already opened your email or the message in your inbox is more than six months old, government agencies can look at them.

"The courts have said that the laws are very confusing and have permitted the government to search your emails held by providers without a warrant," Francisco Loboco, with the American Civil Liberties Union, said.

Email privacy got national billing when CIA Director David Petraeus's extra-marital affair was discovered with the help of personal emails obtained by the FBI. The scandal forced him to retire.

California State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, wants to make sure investigators are required to get a subpoena to search electronic communications.

"All we're saying is you need to go to court," Leno said. "Make the case that there is a good reason to believe that some illegal activity is going on."

Leno sponsored a bill last year that passed the legislature even though it was opposed by top wireless providers, such as Verizon and AT&T.

They claimed communications with law enforcement would cause confusion and would "unduly burden wireless providers and employees" with a multiplied numbers of requests from authorities for information.

Police groups were also opposed to it, saying it would slow down criminal investigations. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill.

"It is natural, law enforcement likes the status quo. They're not going to give up any right they currently have," Leno said.

Now, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announcing that the federal government will track personal emails, Leno is trying again for protection at the state level.

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