States adopt new rules on eavesdropping

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, April 29, 2014

States from Utah to Virginia have added their states to the list that require search warrants for cellphone location data. Maine and Montana already impose rules on cellphone eavesdropping.

A new law in Utah restricts the use of “Stingray” technology. The equipment allows law enforcement 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.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill into law requiring police to get a search warrant before obtaining information from an electronic device not involved in an investigation. The targeted device’s owner would also need to be notified if his or her records were taken.

Previously HB128, the new law takes effect July 1.

Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, said the rule change is a proactive protection for the privacy of all Utahans.

“The Utah Constitution guarantees the privacy of our effects from unreasonable search and seizure,” Madsen said during Senate floor discussion. “We don’t want our police officers becoming like the NSA and amassing large amounts of information on innocent people.”

Two new laws in Indiana prohibit police from searching cellphones during routine traffic stops without a search warrant and prohibit gaining remote access of electronic communication or user data without a warrant. A specific search warrant would be required showing belief that a crime occurred. Limits will also be put in place on the use of tracking devices, surveillance cameras and drones.

The new rules are slated to take effect July 1.

In Tennessee, nearly identical rule changes are headed to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk.

“Searching or seizing a person’s cellphone data without any judicial oversight is a major invasion of the privacy of our citizens,” stated Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet.

A new law in Virginia also covers Stingray technology. It mandates that law enforcement obtain search warrants before capturing cellphone data of innocent drivers.

Effective July 1, HB17 goes one step further to limit electronic eavesdropping. Telephone companies will be prohibited from providing phone records or metadata to the National Security Agency or other federal agencies without a search warrant or the person’s permission.

Despite the best efforts to protect personal information of cellphone users, 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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