Minnesota laws in effect Aug. 1 cover cellphone eavesdropping, work zones

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, July 31, 2014

Two new laws that take effect this week in Minnesota cover cellphone eavesdropping and work zone safety.

Starting Friday, Aug. 1, one new law requires law enforcement to get warrants before collecting data from cellphones using technology that goes by such names as “Stingray” and “Kingfish.” The equipment mimics cellphone towers and 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.

Law enforcement and state agencies will be required to secure a tracking warrant in order to tap into cellphone tracking data for someone who is committing, did commit, or is about to commit a felony-level offense.

Tracking warrants will only be issued to government agencies once they show probable cause.

State Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said the changes are needed to make sure that the location data of innocent people is not subject to unreasonable or unchecked searches by government.

“Times have changed, and we use our mobile devices for location services all the time,” Atkins said in a recent statement. He also said the new law “is a step in ensuring our laws catch up with the times.”

Tracking warrants will be good for 60 days, but could be extended by a court. Notice must also be given to the phone’s owner whose information has been tracked within 90 days.

Another new law effective Friday is intended to protect road workers.

Drivers who speed through work zones could be fined $300. Failure to obey work zone flaggers’ traffic directions can also result in $300 fines.

In addition to the new work zone law, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is required to study all two-lane highways during the next five years. The agency can determine where it is appropriate to increase the posted speed from 55 mph to 60 mph.

Sue Groth, state traffic engineer, said the department will increase the speed limit only if it is deemed safe and reasonable.

“Two-lane state highways are already the most dangerous roads in the state, and we want to make sure any decision we make considers all factors that affect safety.”

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