States continue push for eavesdropping protections

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, February 25, 2014

With revelations about federal spying programs fresh in the minds of many Americans, state lawmakers around the country continue to devout time to efforts to improve privacy protections for the traveling public.

In Arizona, a bill on the move is intended to thwart wayward federal surveillance programs.

The Senate Government and Environment Committee voted 4-2 to advance a bill for further consideration that would prohibit state and local agencies from providing or accepting assistance from the National Security Agency, federal security contractors and other U.S. agencies without a search warrant to collect metadata of electronic communications.

Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, said that her bill isn’t an attack on the federal agency.

“This isn’t a blanket anti-NSA bill. If NSA activities are constitutional we are all for it,” Ward testified. “But if they are collecting information on private citizens with no evidence of crimes being committed that is something me and many of the people I represent are against.”

Warrantless data collected by the feds would also be forbidden from use in state courts.

Ward pointed out that Fourth Amendment of the Constitution gives people the right to privacy.

SB1156 awaits further consideration on the Senate floor.

A Kansas bill also attempts to limit electronic eavesdropping. HB2421 would ban all state and local government from “possessing or attempting to possess” information without obtaining a search warrant.

Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, offered the bill that would prohibit all state and local agencies from obtaining, or attempting to obtain, data on individuals or a group of people held by a third party.

The Kansas Highway Patrol reports that the bill could have “a dramatic fiscal effect” on law enforcement agencies. Troopers say the information that is routinely gathered by officers, such as motor carrier documents and driving records, would require a search warrant.

Others say the effort could block law enforcement from even doing Internet searches on potential suspects.

The bill is in the House Judiciary Committee.

In Virginia, an effort to rein in the use of license plate data was postponed until next year. After police officials and other advocates of the technology balked, Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, asked a Senate panel to delay action on SB670 until more study and changes in wording could be done.

The same action was taken on two House bills – HB13 and HB814 – to require telecommunications providers to let customers know about their release of data to federal agencies and to require a judge to issue a warrant based on probable cause before the police or government obtain access to data from electronic communication.

Up the coast in New Hampshire, a House committee voted 12-1 to advance a bill that would prohibit a state official from searching information on a portable device without a warrant. Violations would be a misdemeanor.

Other states seeking Fourth Amendment protections include Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

Advocates for protecting the public’s privacy say that while the technology is very useful, when government uses it in respect to citizens it is critical to make sure it follows certain parameters.

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.

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