Michigan bills would set rules on cellphone spying

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Technology used to gain access to cellphone data is under review at the Michigan statehouse.

Indiana, Maine, Montana, Tennessee and Utah already impose rules on cellphone eavesdropping. A Minnesota law is set to take effect Oct. 1. In November, Missouri voters will decide on the issue of warrantless cellphone searches.

Michigan state Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, introduced two bills that would regulate and set penalties on the use of military-grade surveillance devices that go by names that include “Hailstorm” and “Stingray.” The technology is used by law enforcement in Oakland County, Mich.

“Among other things, this technology can mimic cell towers to collect data, and citizens wouldn’t have any way of knowing their privacy or, worse, their rights have been violated,” McMillin said in a news release. “To me, that runs into our constitutional rights.”

The first bill, HB5710, would require law enforcement in the state to obtain a specific warrant before capturing cellphone data. Police would also be required to notify innocent people not subject to the warrant within 30 days of their data being collected.

Failure to adhere to the rules could result in jail time up to 93 days and/or a $500 fine. Repeat offenders would face up to four years in prison and/or a $2,000 fine.

The second bill, HB5712, would create a state oversight board to look into how law enforcement agencies use the surveillance technology. Specifically, the board would update regulations in the state as new technology and upgrades become available.

Penalties for misuse by agencies could also be doled out by the board, including revocation of surveillance devices and prison time.

Despite the activities at statehouses, 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.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. House voted in May to approve a bill to end the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. phone records. The NSA would be able to get certain records from phone companies only after obtaining court approval.

The measure awaits further consideration in the U.S. Senate.

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