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2016 criminal law update: new California privacy law takes effect

Readers of a certain vintage might well remember a time when the Internet did not exist or was effectively in the dark ages of technology, being tweaked, expanded and transforming from something strange and novel to a tool of highest utility.

Conversely, readers a bit younger cannot of course recollect a time when the Internet and life on a computer did not exist as a central part of life and daily routine.

We note with decided understatement on our website at The Law Office of John W. Noonan in Alameda County "the increased and widespread use of technology in our daily lives."

That technology, we observe on an online page devoted to the Internet and Cybercrimes, is nowadays accessible to virtually all people, and scores of millions of individuals -- perhaps billions across the globe -- routinely avail themselves of it to communicate through email, texting and myriad other electronic formats.

That capability has bred a slippery slope of sorts. On the one hand, it obviously enhances contact between people. On the other hand, though, it has ushered in a whole new era of criminal investigatory probes and prosecutions relating to so-called "cybercrime" such as computer fraud, identity theft, illegal interceptions and hacking.

There is no question that authorities' close scrutiny of citizens' electronic communications is growing progressively intense in California, nationally and around the world.

That brings more criminal convictions, of course, while at the same time yielding troubling questions regarding fundamental rights of privacy.

California legislators have responded to criticisms of police searching activities in the electronic realm by recently passing what one media account refers to as arguably "the nation's widest-ranging electronic privacy law."

That law took effect from January 1. It requires that police first obtain a search warrant before examining electronic information that is generated through texts, emails, GPS data and related formats. The statutory enactment is applicable in all but limited emergency situations.

Privacy protection is obviously of paramount importance to all Californians and Americans, especially when it is linked to troubling considerations surrounding clandestine police surveillance. Questions or concerns regarding electronic communications and privacy can be directed to an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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