Thursday, May 03, 2007

Texas should keep wiretap authority at DPS

Houston PD can't run it's crime labs properly - why does anyone think they'd do any better with wiretapping powers? Half the cocaine seized by Dallas PD in 2001 turned out to be fake drugs used to set up innocent people - should that agency be empowered to run wiretaps?

I've written previously about a bad wiretapping bill that's so far sailed through the legislative process and is scheduled for a House floor vote today- HB 357 by Riddle is scheduled for a floor debate this afternoon, and its companion SB 823 by Whitmire has already been approved in the Senate and by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, so it's ready to be substituted on the House floor.

Here's the text from a flyer ACLU of Texas prepared about the bill to distribute to House members in preparation for today's vote:

Keep wiretaps at the Texas Department of Public Safety—Vote NO on HB 357

HB 357 gives wiretap authority to local police departments without DPS supervision.

What is an ESN reader and why does it invade my privacy?
HB 357 authorizes local police to use a “pen register, ESN reader, or similar equipment” without DPS supervision. These devices will allow local police to monitor phone numbers, and the same systems tap into the content of cell phone calls. Such monitoring is impossible to detect.

DPS officers are trained, supervised and accountable to the public
Currently, DPS must monitor any open wiretap in Texas in order to ensure that the privacy of individuals unconnected with a criminal investigation is respected. What you say on the phone should be your own private business, not the police. Currently:

  • a DPS officer must be physically present during every minute of any open wiretap,

  • a court has to approve any wiretap, and

  • DPS reports all wiretaps to the federal government so that we, the public, can see how many wiretaps have been or are being used in Texas.

Leaving wiretapping powers at the Department of Public Safety ensures uniform standards and application of wiretapping regulations that simply could not be enforced if local police departments do it themselves. DPS investigators have successfully handled wiretapping for decades without scandal.

Local wiretapping a boondoggle for taxpayers
DPS currently provides wiretap staff and supervision for every wiretap approved by a judge in Texas. Last year, only five wiretaps were requested and conducted statewide (although wiretaps can be used for a wide range of crimes). Four of the six departments who will get their own wiretap authority have not applied for a wiretap in the last five years.

DPS can continue to provide this service to all law enforcement efficiently and at a lower cost to tax payers.
Instead, HB 357 will require locals to buy their own equipment and train their own people at taxpayer expense in order to build redundant wiretap infrastructure.

Once you allow these six cities to wiretap, every department will want to wiretap
HB 357 authorizes local police to in six major cities to monitor calls. Once this authority is in place, all jurisdictions will want it. Smaller jurisdictions already asked the committee to expand the bill to smaller departments.

Stop the boondoggle.
Uphold our liberties today!

See prior Grits coverage of this legislation:

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