If signed into law, cops would finally need a warrant to get location data.
This is an example of good government. A government that understands that it is not the duty of the state to micromanage and nose in on the people it serves.
Privacy experts say that a pair of new mobile privacy bills recently introduced in Texas are among the “most sweeping” ever seen. And they say the proposed legislation offers better protection than a related privacy bill introduced this week in Congress.
If passed, the new bills would establish a well-defined, probable-cause-driven warrant requirement for all location information. That’s not just data from GPS, but potentially pen register, tap and trace, and tower location data as well. Such data would be disclosed to law enforcement “if there is probable cause to believe the records disclosing location information will provide evidence in a criminal investigation.”
Further, the bills would require an annual transparency report from mobile carriers to the public and to the state government.
Under current federal case law and statute, law enforcement generally has broad warrantless powers to not only track suspects in real-time based on their phone data, but also to access records of where and when calls were made or text messages were sent or received—and all of this is provided by the carriers.
“Location information can reveal a great deal about an individual’s professional and personal life—her friends and associates, her participation in political or religious activities, her regular visits to a health clinic or support group, and more,” said Chris Conley, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.
“That’s why we think it is essential that the government get a search warrant, approved by a judge, before demanding this kind of information from cell phone providers. The Texas bill would require just that. In addition, the Texas bill would also require companies to report how often they receive such demands from law enforcement and how much information they disclose. This kind of transparency is essential to carry on an informed dialog about appropriate law enforcement powers in the modern world.”
The unanimous 2012 Supreme Court decision on United States v. Jones ruled that law enforcement did not have the authority to track a suspect using a GPS tracking device put on a car without a warrant. But cops frequently use similar tactics with lower legal standards, including using the suspect’s own phone against her. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Department of Justice to release GPS tracking-related memos.
The bills, which were introduced in the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate last month, are endorsed by the Texas Electronic Privacy Coalition. That’s an umbrella group that includes the Electronic Frontier Foundation-Austin, Grits for Breakfast, Texans for Accountable Government, and the ACLU of Texas. They will need to pass both houses and be signed by the state governor, Rick Perry, before becoming law.