English: Seal of California

Seal of California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to setting standards for online activity, its often California that comes first. We’ve written before about the country looking west for guidance on such matters, and now the Golden State’s new laws on digital privacy rights seem set to do the same.

The wide-ranging measures, signed into state law as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act by Governor Jerry Brown last Thursday, means that authorities must now obtain a court order if they want to search mobile devices or company computer systems. This applies to text and multimedia messages, pictures, and many other forms of digital data that now make up so much of our everyday lives.

Other laws passed in the same vein position California, once again, as the place that other American states look for legal inspiration, in an arena that morphs and changes more quickly than most can adapt.  With so many of the country’s most successful tech companies calling the west coast home, it isn’t surprising to find this location driving much of the legal reaction to technology advances. It impacts around 39 million people, more than 10 percent of the total US population, and provides an effective testing ground for laws affecting the latest devices and digital issues.

Describing the drive behind the law, its co-founder state senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) posed this comparison to traditional privacy rights:

“For what logical reason should a handwritten letter stored in a desk drawer enjoy more protection from warrantless government surveillance than an email?”

While this commitment to digital privacy rights is heartening for consumers, creators continue to look to government to do more to protect digital property.

Applied to the idea of intellectual property, is it not fair to expand Leno’s analogy? Why should creative work, whether a photograph, music file, or video clip, not receive the same level of rigorous protection that it .

Ironically, some of those championing the new digital privacy rights so strongly are among those opposing the rights of creative workers to protect their work when it appears in digital form. Piracy apologists would not support stealing a CD or DVD from a store, but when it comes to downloading the same copyrighted content from a piracy site, they side with the latter and cite some twisted form of digital liberty as a defense.

This is a double-standard that would be easier to digest if the law strongly supported rightsholders. Unfortunately, at both a state and federal level, the law lags behind the technology that empowers piracy. This show of strength for the citizens should be extended to those who work in the creative economy, so much of which has its roots in California, by overhauling national copyright law for the digital age.