More than a dozen states pursue eavesdropping protections

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, January 31, 2014

As revelations about federal spying programs continue to be made public, state lawmakers throughout the country are advocating for changes to improve privacy protections for the traveling public.

Indiana state lawmakers wasted little time this year going on the offensive in an effort to restrict police collection of cellphone data. Multiple bills under review address concerns about the use of “Stingray” technology by law enforcement, including the Indiana State Police. The equipment allows the federal government, local and state police departments to track the movements of anyone nearby with a cellphone. The numbers of people’s incoming and outgoing calls and text messages are also captured.

Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, said people have a right to privacy.

“Unfortunately, there are legal loopholes allowing government agencies to snoop on our digital lives,” Delph said in a news release. “This proposal works to close those loopholes by requiring a warrant and punishing those who do not follow the protocol.”

His bill would require a warrant showing probable cause of a crime before local, state or federal government officials could search an electronic device. Without warrants, illegal searches would be considered felonies with the possibility of prison time.

Advocates for protecting the public’s privacy say although states cannot put a stop to spying done by the National Security Agency, many elected officials want to make it more difficult at the state level to carry out snooping.

Minnesota state Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Louis Park, spoke at a House committee hearing to discuss high-tech snooping that is attacking citizens’ protection under the Fourth Amendment.

“This technology is very useful. It’s very important and very worthwhile, though when government uses it in respect to citizens, we need to make sure it follows certain parameters,” Lesch told lawmakers.

However, some experts question whether the government’s data collection can be curbed by state actions. They cite the supremacy clause, which establishes the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes and U.S. treaties as “the supreme law of the land.”

The U.S. Supreme Court could soon decide on whether the use of cellphone data is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Other states seeking Fourth Amendment protections include Arizona, Kansas, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

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