State lawmakers from over a dozen states are trying push back the powers of the federal government of monitoring and tracking citizens amid anger over last year’s revelations about mass National Security Agency surveillance. It comes months after former NSA analyst Edward Snowden revealed how the agency collected information of millions of Americas. Snowden disclosed to the media a large number of top secret NSA documents, and this has been characterized as one of the most significant leaks in United States history.
Scores of small government activists and privacy supporters have opposed the surveillance programs.
However, police groups disagree and say the moves will in some cases hinder efforts to deter or solve crimes. “It would cripple law enforcement’s ability to do investigations,” said Bart Johnson, executive director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Increased oversight is “a reality that is coming to law enforcement,” said Georgia Bureau of Investigation director Vernon Keenan. “And we can either try to stand up and fight it off, which is not possible,” Keenan said, “or embrace what is reasonable.”
But lawmakers from at least 14 states have other notions about the NSA surveillance. “We need to stand up and protect our liberty,” said Republican Missouri state Sen. Rob Schaaf, author of a digital privacy bill. The proposals in the 14 states include a proposal in Colorado which calls for the limit to the retention of images from license plate readers while the proposal in Oregon, the bill would required “urgent circumstances” to obtain mobile phone locater data. In Delaware, the measure there will increase privacy protections for text messages. Schaaf’s plan in Missouri for a “legislatively mandated ballot measure” would add electronic data to a list of property protected from unreasonable search and seizure. If it passes, it would go before voters in November.
“The people in Missouri, if they get the chance to approve it, will send a message that other states can, and must, do the same thing,” Schaaf said. “We can’t wait on Congress to pick up the banner.”
Devices such as license plate readers and mobile phone trackers “can tell whether you stayed in a motel that specializes in hourly rates, or you stopped at tavern that has nude dancers,” said David Fidanque, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.
Meanwhile, in the Hoosier State, lawmakers have submitted a bill that would ban the warrantless use of a portable device that can track cellphone movements within a mile as well as the numbers of incoming and outgoing calls and text messages. Indiana lawmakers also want to use warrants to limit the use of tracking devices and surveillance cameras.
"You could get to the point where you're just tracking everyone's car just for the fun of it," said Republican Rep. Eric Koch.