Indiana closer to protections from warrantless cellphone, data searches

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/21/2014

Indiana state lawmakers are moving forward with efforts to improve privacy protections for people by restricting police collection of cellphone data.

The Senate voted 45-3 to advance one bill that would prohibit police from searching cellphones during routine traffic stops without a search warrant.

SB64 would require police to get a warrant when there isn’t probable cause to believe a person’s phone contains evidence of a crime, such as illegally texting while driving.

“The bill would compel law enforcement to seek a judge’s permission before downloading information from a cellphone, personal computer, tablet or other things of this nature,” Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, said while speaking on the Senate floor.

“Certainly in the last year we’ve seen a lot of information – the NSA and Eric Snowden, Wikileaks – where our personal freedoms should be protected, and certainly our electronic communication should be protected as well.”

The bill has moved to the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee. The House version, HB1384, already passed the House on an 87-3 vote.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance to the Senate floor a related bill that would also prohibit warrantless searches of electronic communication or user data. Specifically, it would require obtaining a specific search warrant showing belief that a crime occurred.

House lawmakers previously approved HB1009 on an 85-11 vote.

The bill covers 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.

Sponsored by Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, the bill would also put limits on the use of tracking devices, surveillance cameras and drones.

“This bill balances privacy and security in the Digital Age,” Koch said during House floor discussion. He also noted the assistance of law enforcement “in helping us avoid unintended consequences that could be detrimental to public safety.”

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said the bill has brought together people on both sides of the aisle to arrive at the same conclusion on the use of surveillance.

“The state should not be attempting to get into your private business unless they have some cause to believe that you are engaging in criminal activity,” Pierce said.

Police would also be required to get a warrant before they can demand a person give them his or her password for a cellphone, or other electronic device.

Koch’s bill also calls for further study on the issue in an interim committee.

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