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Bill to Restrict Cell Phone Tracking Comes Before Maine Lawmakers
03/20/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

Personal privacy is the theme of many bills facing the Maine Legislature this year, and today, lawmakers considered yet another. LD 415 would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before tracking cell phone location. The bill has bipartisan support, but faces opposition from the state's attorney general, who says the law would be redundant and hamper law enforcement. Patty Wight has more.

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Bill to Restrict Cell Phone Tracking Comes Before Listen

The last time U.S. privacy laws for electronic communication were updated was 1986, when handheld cell phones were novel enough to warrant news stories.

News clip from 1986: "Brrring. It's a cross between a beeper and car phone - it's a pocket cellular telephone."

Twenty-seven years later, says Republican Roger Katz, the role of technology in people's lives is very different, and he says it's time to update privacy laws. Katz is the sponsor of the bill that would require court-approved warrants before police could access someone's location via cell phone, except in certain emergency situations.

"Today, whether we realize it or not, most of us are walking around with a GPS device right in our pocket," Katz said. "And whether we like it or not, a record is being made that shows exactly where we are every moment of the day or night."

Bringing the potential, Katz says, for a stunning invasion of privacy. Zach Heiden from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine says the ACLU investigated the law enforcement agencies across the state to see what rules they use for obtaining this information, and found almost none had a comprehensive policy.

"LD 415 is not designed to single out or punish any particular law enforcement agencies for lack of policy," Heiden said. "Instead, LD 415 creates uniform privacy standards that all departments can follow and understand."

"We follow what the federal law is, and we believe the federal law does apply to this information," said Maine Deputy Attorney General Bill Stokes. Stokes says the bill is redundant because cell phone companies maintain this information, and they insist that law enforcement comply with the federal law before releasing any data.

Stokes says the bill is also troubling because of a particular detail: "We're now going to impart into state law an exclusionary rule," he said.

An exclusionary rule would prohibit using cell phone location data in a court case if law enforcement doesn't follow the law when obtaining it. Stokes says an officer's mistake is a steep price to pay to throw out this kind of evidence, "which is reliable. It's truthful. It's relevant. And yet a jury or judge would not be able to consider it."

The ACLU, though, points out that's a long-standing tradition under the Constitution and federal law.

Sen. Roger Katz says he will work with law enforcement to modify the bill as necessary, but even though technology has already gotten ahead of the law, "Will this bill make it harder for law enforcement to conduct surviellance? Yes. Is that an important safeguard in a democracy? Yes."

Katz says Maine can't wait for the federal government to update privacy laws.


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