A coalition of law enforcement groups and prosecutors is holding back a California bill with bipartisan support intended to protect people seeking reproductive and gender-affirming health care and fighting to weaken its provisions.
The bill, AB 793, would ban so-called “reverse requests,” requests to tech companies such as geofences or keyword search warrants, which typically extract data about masses of people who may not even be suspected of a crime. Law enforcement and prosecutors say these are essential tools for public safety that must be maintained, but civil liberties advocates say recent lobbying efforts by law enforcement will reduce the bill to the point that it will leave people unprotected.
“The intent of the bill was to ensure that these blanket warrants could not be used against individuals seeking sensitive services in the state of California,” said Assemblywoman Mia Bon.ta, a state representative from Oakland, Calif., who introduced the bill.
In the beginning, Asm. Goodta says the bill passed through the committee with bipartisan support. But AB 793 faced opposition late in the game, as previously supportive lawmakers changed their stances under pressure from lobbyists, prosecutors and law enforcement officials. The bill passed the Assembly by a single vote. His fate now lies in the Senate, where he may need major cuts to his protections if he has any hope of passing.you said.
There is a long list of people and groups who oppose the bill. This includes the California District Attorneys Association, the Peace Officers Research Association of California, the California Police Chiefs Association, and the California State Sherriff’s Association, as well as a number of county sheriffs and district attorneys.
“The bill was originally scaled to completely eliminate these practices. This issue of digital privacy concerns fundamental rights. It’s in the constitution. The way our digital footprints are used is the modern equivalent of some of the problems that caused the American Revolution,” Bon said.you said.
In general, law enforcement and prosecutors argue that those seeking reproductive and gender-affirming care should be protected, but they say losing access to reverse requests would do more harm than good.
A representative from the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) pointed to a letter the association wrote opposing the bill. AB 793 would prohibit the use of reverse location and keyword searches, essential methods investigators use to solve some of the most serious crimes,” the letter states. The other law enforcement groups, sheriffs and district attorneys mentioned in this story did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Like other groups, PORAC offers an alternative path. The organization says it would consider withdrawing its opposition if the bill were amended to limit the ban on reservation requests to cases specifically involving reproductive rights and access to gender-affirming care.
However, some civil liberties advocates argue that restricting the bill in this way would render it ineffective.
“It would mean we’re going to lose protections even for the exact communities we’re trying to help, because there are many ways law enforcement could use reverse requests to get their hands on this information without specifically asking for it. ,” said Hayley Tsukayama, senior legislative activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
For example, law enforcement could create a geofencing warrant for a gas station across from a Planned Parenthood clinic, rather than the clinic itself. Officials could request a keyword search warrant for search terms that are clearly unrelated to issues surrounding the transgender community.
Additionally, Tsukayama said the reverse demands were unconstitutional in the first place. “In a densely populated city, these warrants can extract information on hundreds or thousands of people, people who are not suspects. There is no probable cause to warrant this kind of research,” Tsukayama said. “There are many other tools that law enforcement has used for decades that are much more protective of people’s rights, and there is evidence that these types of warrants often don’t even help solve crimes. to more closed cases.
A recent example came after a Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting investigation found widespread use of geofencing warrants by the Louisville Metro Police Department, but data showed that these efforts were not leading to more closed case. “Law enforcement advocates for tools with hard-to-see opaque benefits,” Tsukayama said.
A year ago this week, the Supreme Court Dobbs decision overturned Americans’ constitutional right to abortion. This sparked a new debate on the importance of digital privacy. As county states move to criminalize once-accessible health care procedures, advocates fear the trail of data we all leave behind could be used to nab and prosecute marginalized people.
The fight to protect reproductive health care and the LGBTQ community is now tied to older concerns about law enforcement oversight. Normally, law enforcement and prosecutors must demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant or court order to get hold of information about suspects. But in recent years, a new practice has emerged that circumvents Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure. Rather than isolating an individual, officials ask a company like Google for a report of everyone who searched for certain keywords, or a list of everyone whose location data shows they were in a particular area. , known as “geofencing”.
AB 793 is not the first attempt to protect these sensitive healthcare procedures. Immediately after the Supreme Court decision Dobbs decision, California passed three laws that provide exceptions for health care providers and state officials, allowing them to ignore out-of-state subpoenas related to reproductive and affirmation care of gender.
However, the data collected by technology companies is a gray area, which AB 793 hopes to resolve. Google, Meta and Amazon, three companies that receive the lion’s share of geofences and keyword search mandates, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Asm. Goodta said the bill would still have teeth with the proposed changes. “It raises the bar for requests from law enforcement. If we are able to do this work over the next few weeks, it will be an incredibly important victory on issues of reproductive health and gender-affirming care,” Asm said. Goodyou said. “People are going to have the assurance that these actions will be protected, even if they are deemed criminal by their other states.”
It will take a compromise if the bill has any hope of passing. AB 793 faces an uphill battle, as its proposals require a two-thirds majority in the legislature. But Asm. Goodta says it won’t hinder his efforts.
“We’re planting a flag, and I’m hopeful that we can get to a place that will move the ball forward for digital privacy and its connection to law enforcement,” Asm said. Goodyou said.