South Carolina bill calls for new rules on cellphone spying

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, December 11, 2014

Technology used to gain access to cellphone data will come under scrutiny after the first of the year at the South Carolina statehouse.

Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, has prefiled a bill for consideration during the session that opens Jan. 13 to regulate the use of military-grade surveillance devices that go by names that include “Hailstorm” and “Stingray.”

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.

The American Civil Liberties Union is unaware of any law enforcement use of the technology in the state.

Bright’s bill, S90, would require law enforcement in the state to obtain a specific warrant before capturing cellphone data.

Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Montana, Tennessee and Utah already impose rules on the use of eavesdropping technology.

Elsewhere, a Minnesota law to help protect residents from warrantless cellphone searches took effect Oct. 1. In August, Missouri voters changed the state’s Constitution to provide protections from warrantless search and seizure by law enforcement.

A new law in California is intended to thwart wayward federal surveillance programs. It takes effect Jan. 1.

Despite the actions already taken, 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.”

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