Vermont Legislature Sends Sweeping Privacy Bill to Governor’s Desk
In Vermont, legislators are beginning to fight the federal government’s power grab by passing legislation that would hinder federal surveillance programs.
If the Tenth Amendment Center is correct, the activism sprung from the growing anti-surveillance spirit sparked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden may have helped to push the Vermont legislature to pass a bill that would boost the state’s privacy protections in the state.
As it now stands, the bill’s text bans the warrantless use of stingray technology to track phone location, restricts the police’s use of surveillance drones, and keeps law enforcement from having warrantless access to user data from service providers.
Senate Bill 155, which was filed in December by Sens. Tim Ashe, Joe Benning, and Dick Sears originally addressed the state’s law enforcement’s use of drones by stipulating certain restrictions concerning the law enforcement’s data sharing and storage policies gathered through the use of Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) technologies. While in review, however, both the Senate and the House added amendments to S.155, limiting warrantless collection of electronic data and warrantless use of stingray devices. With the bill as it now is written, the ALPR law in the state could change significantly.
According to TAC’s Mike Maharrey, stingray programs are vastly funded by the US federal government, giving state and local law enforcement agencies extra incentives to make use of the intrusive technology, considering states don’t have to squeeze any extra funding to cover the use of these systems locally. But for agencies to have access to the technologies, the federal government requires agencies to sign non-disclosure agreements. As a result, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and even judges are kept out of the loop.
A recent trial demonstrated how these non-disclosure agreements hurt investigations.
According to an article on the Baltimore Sun, Detective Emmanuel Cabreja refused to answer questions when pressed to give information on the device used during the investigation. After the local detective cited a non-disclosure agreement, the judge threatened to hold him in contempt if the information wasn’t unveiled. Instead of caving in, prosecutors withdrew the evidence, which is what the feds instruct prosecutors to do in similar cases.
According to privacysos.org, the FBI often allows criminals to go unpunished rather than having to face “a possible scenario where a defendant brings a Fourth Amendment challenge to warrantless stingray spying.”
While the federal government allows states to make use of these technologies under the guise of the war on terror, the technology is used primarily for routine criminal investigations, a fact that has been revealed by the Tacoma Police Department.
Maharrey argues that the federal government’s network of drones, which are funded by the American taxpayer, is increasingly cornering innocent individuals, infringing on their right to privacy, which is guaranteed by the US Constitution. With pieces of legislation like S.155, states may stand a chance at fighting the federal government’s overreach.
Both chambers have passed S.155, and the bill now awaits to be sent to the governor’s desk.