Calif. Lawmakers Air Privacy Concerns with Insurance Proof Bill

In their latest analysis of legislation legalizing electronic types of insurance proof, lawmakers in California said the heavily supported AB 1708 also piques privacy concerns about authorities’ access to personal information stored on mobile phones.

Three unanimous votes pushed the legislation through the state Assembly in less than two months; the latest was a 73-0 vote on May 10 on the state Assembly floor.

Even with such strong support, the analysis released on Monday points out lingering issues about the bill. Some concerns are related to information stored on mobile phones that, when presented to authorities, could be accidentally revealed when a driver offers the phone as proof of coverage.

“At issue … is what can be done with the information, especially under the laws of criminal procedure,” the analysis stated.

Lawmakers inserted a provision in the legislation narrowing authorities’ access to information on the phones and prohibiting them “from viewing any other content on the mobile electronic device.”

But even with that provision, the authors of the analysis warn that the state’s Proposition 8 from 1982 and the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution give authorities greater power over criminal evidence they can seize. Such laws would take precedence over the proposal if it should pass, according to the analysis.

According to the analysis, Proposition 8 “requires that all relevant evidence be admissible in a criminal proceeding.” And under the Fourth Amendment, “when a person voluntarily grants access to [an] otherwise protected area, evidence discovered in the course of that search is admissible” if it is in plain view.

“Practically speaking, this might mean that any person who hands their cell phone over to a peace officer voluntarily risks disclosure of private information accidentally revealed, even though AB 1708 only narrowly authorizes peace officers to view evidence of financial responsibility,” the analysis states.

Bill Sponsor Wants California to Catch Up

The Senate Insurance Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill Wednesday. In the analysis, committee members said Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), who authored the bill, is seeking its passage to clear up uncertainties in state law requiring motorists to provide proof of coverage when they are asked to do so by courts or law enforcement.

“There have been reports of some officers accepting electronic forms, at their discretion, due to the vagueness of the code sections that cover proof of insurance,” according to the analysis.

Many insurers already make electronic proof of coverage available instantly after a driver buys a policy, whether it is through a scanned image of the policy card or coverage documents that can be uploaded and displayed on a mobile phone.

Gatto introduced the legislation because “the law and government services have not kept up with new technology,” according to the analysis.

“With more and more companies connecting with their customers and providing services via mobile applications, it seems that now is the time for the state of California to provide the same convenience to their customers—the people of our state,” the analysis stated.

The bill is backed by industry regulators in the state, the Association of California Insurance Companies and the Personal Insurance Federation of California, the last of which expressed support in the analysis of the bill because it provided a “green” option to consumers that would reduce use of paper-copy policy cards.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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