California nears new rules on cellphone spying

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/27/2014

An effort is nearing passage at the California statehouse to thwart wayward federal surveillance programs.

The Assembly voted unanimously to advance a bill that would prohibit state agencies, officials and corporations that provide services to the state from supporting or assisting the federal government to collect electronic data or metadata on citizens without a warrant.

The cellphone eavesdropping bill awaits Senate approval of changes made in the Assembly before SB828 can move to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, said new rules are needed to prevent taxpayers’ own money from being used to violate their rights.

“The National Security Agency’s massive and indiscriminate collecting of phone data on all Americans, including more than 38 million Californians, is a threat to our liberty and freedom,” Lieu previously stated.

State lawmakers throughout the country have spent much of the year pushing for changes that would require search warrants for cellphone data.

Indiana, Maine, Montana, Tennessee and Utah already impose rules on the use of “Stingray” and “Kingfish” technology. 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.

Elsewhere, a Minnesota law to help protect residents from warrantless cellphone searches is set to take effect Oct. 1. In November, Missouri voters will decide on the issue.

In Michigan, one bill recently introduced addresses access to cellphone data. Specifically, law enforcement in the state would be required 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.

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.”

The U.S. Supreme Court could soon decide on whether the use of cellphone data is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House voted on Thursday, May 22, to approve a bill to end the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. phone records. The National Security Agency 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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