Capital Briefs

Push back against police spying continues

This article originally appeared on watchdog.org.

A  number of state legislatures and courts are checking in on law enforcement spy games.

The push back comes as the rise of mobile communication technologies intersects with the militarization of police forces across the nation.

Using advanced technology, law enforcement agencies are able to track without a warrant the location of a suspect’s cell phone, such as in Florida.

While state and local police forces are hoping to keep their eavesdropping abilities, state lawmakers are working to rein them in.

In Minnesota, for example, state lawmakers are considering two bills — HF 2553 and HF 2558 — that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant “to receive” the location information of cell phones and other electronic devices.

The implications of such data collection are hardly local, as highlighted by a Reuters investigation that revealed how the National Security Agency shares data collected without a warrant with state and local law enforcement for criminal investigations not related to national security.

In a recent blog post, OffNow.org, a coalition of organizations pushing back against the NSA at the state and local level, called the data sharing a “dagger into the heart of the Fourth Amendment.”

In Utah, as Watchdog.org previously reported, legislation is expected to become law in early April that would ban the state’s law enforcement agencies from collecting cell phone location data without a warrant.

According to Nate Cardozo, however, the fight over warrantless location data collection is not in state legislatures, but in the courts.

“Several courts (including the New Jersey Supreme Court and the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals) have held that the Constitution requires that law enforcement obtain a warrant before it may access cell location data,” Cardozo, a staff attorney on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s digital civil liberties team, told Watchdog.org in an email response.

In February, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court joined the New Jersey Supreme Court in its opinion, banning state law enforcement agencies from tracking the location of a suspect’s cell phone without a warrant.

“Other courts (the 5th Circuit, for instance) have gone the other way,” said Cardozo.

“So while the efforts of state legislatures to require warrants are important, if the Supreme Court agrees that warrants are constitutionally required, those efforts will be icing on the cake,” he said.

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