CA Assemblyman Pulls Controversial Bill from Privacy Committee Hearing


California Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) has withdrawn AB-165 — a controversial bill that would have provided a student exclusion to the existing California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA) — from a Privacy Committee scheduled for Tuesday, April 18.

The bill would have allowed a local educational agency, or any individual acting on behalf of a local educational agency, to search an electronic device or online account of a student, parent, teacher of school staff member without complying with CalECPA rules. CalECPA — which requires probable cause and a warrant to search electronic devices and information — was passed in 2015 with overwhelming bipartisan support in the legislature. It was supported by Google and Facebook and hailed by as the “nation’s best digital privacy law.”
However, backers of AB-165, including the Association of California School Administrators, said information obtained under the proposed law would be used to prevent bullying and keep students safe. They said they would go back to the drawing board and try again.

“We’re making it a two-year bill, which means it’s not going to be heard next week. But the conversations are going to continue,” Laura Preston, lobbyist for the school administrators, said to Courthouse News Service.

The bill faced massive opposition from civil rights and other groups. A coalition of more than 55 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Common Sense Kids Action, voiced their opposition to the bill and fueled an online campaign to tell legislators not to support the bill.

“I'm glad to see that the efforts of our coalition partners and parent advocates were successful in stopping this attack on the privacy rights of millions of California children, teachers and staff,” said Craig Cheslog, Common Sense Kids Action’s vice president for California policy and advocacy, in a statement issued late Thursday. “We gave this bill an ‘Against Kids’ rating for a reason: It would have had a critical negative impact on our kids' privacy and lives. I hope this is a sign that our legislators will make protecting our kids' privacy and safety a priority.”

Preston said CalECPA was crafted without educators in mind, and that school administrators are aiming to get something through the legislature later this year. She added that teachers usually want to access cellphones to prevent cyberbullying and cheating on tests, not to investigate postings on social media or text messages for criminal content, according to Courthouse News Service.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].