Growing number of states outlaw NSA-style police and government spying

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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An increasing number of states are pushing legislation to protect the private telephone and Internet data of citizens from police and government electronic surveillance.

Indiana, Maine and Montana have already successfully passed legislating limiting police access to GPS cellphone location data without a court-ordered search warrant according to a Tuesday Washington Examiner report, and similar bills are moving through the legislatures of 15 additional states tracked by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

States like California have begun using anti-terrorism devices that track all cellphone metadata within a given area — including location, call logs and text messages — to conduct “routine” police work. Such devices inadvertently capture the data of non-suspects as well.

Massachusetts and New Jersey have comparable new laws against such surveillance on the books, and Washington state is proposing quite possibly the most aggressive yet by trying to outlaw providing even basic utility services to National Security Agency outposts.

All of the bills are likely responses to the revelations brought on by the leaks of classified NSA bulk surveillance programs that began last year by former contractor Edward Snowden.

“Since the mobile revolution started, much more information is available and accessible, and people are starting to grow concerned, particularly about the government’s access and use of such information,” ALEC task force on communications and technology John Stephenson said in the Times.

“The flood of interest in this really took off after the Snowden revelations,” Stephenson said. “Suddenly people started asking questions about who has access to their data, who can get at it, what can the government do with it?”

Numerous congressional representatives in Washington, D.C. have proposed various bills limiting such federal and state surveillance activity since last year, none of which made any significant progress until last week, when the House Intelligence Committee announced a new bill within days of a similar White House proposal.

States have been tackling the issue directly since last year, with significantly more success than that which has yet to occur at the executive and legislative federal level. Though specific language and details vary, the majority of state-originated bills at the very least require police to obtain a search warrant for electronic data records.

According to Alan Butler of the privacy and government transparency non-profit Electronic Privacy Information Center, the state bills are purposefully designed to apply the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures to new technology like cellphones and computers.

“Law enforcement obtains probable-cause warrants routinely in criminal investigations,” Butler said in the Times. “You are not prohibiting them from using this tool. You are just restricting the use of the tool to circumstances [in which] they’ve already identified probable cause.”

“This is a significant change in the process that law enforcement uses to conduct investigations, to do surveillance,” Butler said.

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