California to Ask Social Media Platforms to Keep Illegal Drug Sale Communications for at Least 90 Days

California to Ask Social Media Platforms to Keep Illegal Drug Sale Communications for at Least 90 Days

California state Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris speaks about upcoming fentanyl legislation attempts in Irvine, Calif., on April 28, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

10/16/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

In an effort to protect California residents—especially youth—against the rapidly growing fentanyl crisis, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law Oct. 13 aimed at requiring greater transparency and accountability from social media platforms operating in the state.
Assembly Bill 1027—introduced by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine)—requires such platforms to disclose policies for keeping records of users’ online communication, specifically those flagged for drugs, and the sharing of such information related to drug distribution. The bill aims to help law enforcement agencies better combat the sale of illegal drugs online and “address [the] fentanyl crisis,” according to a statement in July by Ms. Petrie-Norris announcing the bill.
“This drug is ravaging our communities every day. Kids are dying. We need to ensure that our law enforcement partners have every tool they need to fight this epidemic. It is clear that this crisis is urgent and immediate action is vital,” she said in the statement.
The new law requires social media platforms to retain for at least 90 days their online user’s communications, or content that is in violation of policies regarding the sale or distribution of illegal drugs.
The new law largely aims to target the sale of fentanyl, as nearly 70 percent of all drug overdose deaths in the country in 2022 involved synthetic opioids—mostly fentanyl—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the office of Ms. Petrie-Norris, drug dealers are taking advantage of the anonymity of social media sites to target underage and homeless youth.
“For instance, some social media platforms have settings designed to erase chat history after just a few hours. This makes it incredibly difficult for law enforcement to track and prosecute online fentanyl traffickers,” a press release from July from Ms. Petrie-Norris reads.
Under the new law, all social media platforms are now required to have their policies posted online for retaining users’ online communications, as well as the procedures for sharing such information.
Additionally, such platforms would be required to submit a monthly report to the California Attorney General’s office regarding accounts flagged for the sale of illicit drugs.
Platforms that fail to do so will be subject to fines up to $190,000 for the first violation and no more than $380,000 for subsequent violations.
TechNet—a network of tech companies advocating for technology-friendly policies and which represents companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram—supported the bill, and said they’re thankful to Ms. Petrie-Norris for bringing it forward.
“This will have a meaningful impact in helping to ensure that law enforcement and prosecutors have access to the evidence that they need to go after drug traffickers and others who misuse our social media platforms to try to sell and proliferate controlled substances,” TechNet Executive Director for California and the Southwest, Dylan Hoffman told The Epoch Times.
He commended the assemblywoman for speaking to various parties to push for the new law.
“We’re really grateful for her leadership and convening various stakeholders, not just us, but also victims’ rights advocates, and representatives from law enforcement and district attorneys. So there are a lot of eyes on this,” he said.
The new law becomes effective Jan. 1.
Steve Filson (L), whose daughter Jessica Filson died in January 2020 of fentanyl poisoning, and Amy Neville (R), whose son Alexander Neville died in June 2020 at the age of 14 of fentanyl poisoning, march with family and friends to protest outside of the Snap, Inc. headquarters, makers of the Snapchat social media application, in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 4, 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Steve Filson (L), whose daughter Jessica Filson died in January 2020 of fentanyl poisoning, and Amy Neville (R), whose son Alexander Neville died in June 2020 at the age of 14 of fentanyl poisoning, march with family and friends to protest outside of the Snap, Inc. headquarters, makers of the Snapchat social media application, in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 4, 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

The bill was opposed by the ACLU California Action and the Electronic Frontier Foundation—an international nonprofit digital rights group—according to the Senate Committee on Public Safety’s bill analysis.
The foundation said there were several reasons why some may wish to have their personal conversations deleted quickly. Examples given included conversations about sexual orientation or seeking abortions or gender-affirming care that are illegal in some states.
The group said that requiring such platforms to scan and save content could also pose a threat to end-to-end encryption, which ensures secure communication between two parties.
“Requiring that platforms scan actioned content may as a practical matter mean that platforms will not let people use end-to-end encryption because it would interfere with scanning,” a letter from the nonprofit reads.
They further wrote that retaining such information under a government mandate “undermines people’s control of their own personal conversations.”
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Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

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Rudy Blalock is a Southern California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. Originally from Michigan, he moved to California in 2017, and the sunshine and ocean have kept him here since. In his free time, he may be found underwater scuba diving, on top of a mountain hiking or snowboarding—or at home meditating, which helps fuel his active lifestyle.

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