Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) announced today she will introduce legislation to prohibit state and local police agencies from accessing or retrieving the location data of residents by surveillance of an electronic device without a court warrant. Beavers said the bill helps ensure the government does not take advantage of technological advances in cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices to spy without appropriate judicial oversight.
“The government and law enforcement agencies should not be able to tap into your cell phone location or gain access to electronically stored data without a warrant approved by a judge,” said Senator Beavers. “We cannot let technological advances sidestep the Fourth Amendment. This protection is a very important part of the checks and balances put into place by our forefathers to keep government from overstepping is boundaries.”
Law enforcement made 1.1 million requests to wireless carriers for cellphone data information in 2012 according to a report delivered to Congress earlier this month. The three largest wireless companies, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon reported they have received 56,400 “emergency” requests from police departments which did not have a warrant or court order. One company reported their requests from police have doubled in the past five years.
In addition, public records obtained by USA Today and Gannett reveal that about one in four law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have used “tower dumps.” This is a surveillance tactic which covers multiple towers and wireless providers to give police a multitude of electronic data about a targeted cell phone user. The digital dragnets also capture information on other persons using wireless devices in the area who are not suspected of wrongdoing.
Beavers said her electronic privacy bill will be modeled after one passed by Montana which allows exceptions only in order to respond to a possible life-threatening situation, an emergency call by the user or when a device is reported as stolen, unless there is informed consent by the owner.
“Citizens must be protected from unreasonable government surveillance,” added Beavers. “This legislation is a big step forward in securing our Constitutional freedoms.”