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Geofence Warrants and AB 793: The Balance of Public Safety and Privacy Rights

by | Aug 31, 2023 | Legislation

Geofence warrants represent a modern approach to crime-solving. At its core, a geofence is a virtual boundary set up around a physical location. Regarding law enforcement, geofence warrants are a type of reverse warrant where the government aims to pinpoint who was within this virtual boundary during a specific time frame.

When traditional investigative methods fall short, and there are no known suspects, these reverse warrants come into play. They compel technology companies to reveal information about devices that interacted with their technology within a designated geographic area over a set duration. 

For instance, through geofence warrants, authorities can access what Google labels as “location history” data. This data provides a comprehensive record of where a user’s device was at any given moment, drawing from a myriad of sources such as GPS, Bluetooth beacons, cell tower locations, IP addresses, and even the signal strength of nearby WiFi networks.

The Controversy Surrounding Geofence Warrants

However, as with many technological advancements, there’s a flip side. Critics argue that geofence warrants are akin to “general warrants,” which the Fourth Amendment prohibits due to their lack of probable cause and specificity. This contention reached its zenith with the introduction of Assembly Bill 793 (AB 793) in February 2023.

AB 793 proposed adding four new sections to the California Penal Code (sections 1546.8 through 1546.83) to ban geofence warrants entirely. The bill saw a wave of support from privacy champions, reproductive rights organizations, and tech giants. Yet, it faced staunch opposition from law enforcement agencies, who raised concerns about the blanket prohibition.

Despite the momentum, AB 793 did not pass this year. However, it’s essential to note that it’s classified as a “two-year bill,” meaning its author might bring it back to the table in 2024.

Looking Ahead

Geofencing, undoubtedly, is a legal frontier that will continue to draw attention and debate. Civica Law Group, APC, remains committed to staying abreast of developments related to AB 793. We will ensure our clients and the public are informed if the bill makes a comeback next year.

About the Author

  • Civica Law

    With over 75 collective years of experience, Civica Law has helped cities and counties abate thousands of dangerous and substandard properties, improve housing conditions, and effectively deal with a wide range of quality-of-life issues, from homeless encampments to cannabis, drug, and gang dens to illegal gambling (or tap-tap) facilities, illegal business operations, human trafficking and massage, land use, and zoning, and virtually every other conceivable quality of life and safety issue a public agency may face.

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