Friday, March 08, 2013

Media flurry on bills requiring warrants for location tracking

There's been quite a bit of fresh coverage this week related to the cell-phone location tracking bill authored by state Rep. Bryan Hughes (HB 1608) and state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (SB 786), including a piece in the New York Times today (it's always nice to see the blog mentioned there). A slightly longer version that story was published at the Texas Tribune. Slate's Future Tense blog ran an item earlier in the week.

Among the techies, Ars Technica posted something on the bills, as did Motherboard. Webpro News posted an item on the legislation, following up with another piece posing the question, "Can States Do a Better Job of Protecting Online Privacy?" Of all these recent stories, though, an item from IT World had the best lede:
It appears folks deep in the heart of Texas really don’t trust the government. At the very least, they don’t have a lot of faith in what Johnny Law is likely to do with their location data – and it’s something the rest of us outside the Republic of T. may all eventually benefit from.

According to a report by Ars Technica’s Cyrus Farivar, legislators in Austin have proposed two mobile privacy bills that are stricter than any yet seen by any other US governmental entity – even tougher than the one California Governor Jerry Moonbeam Brown vetoed last year.
While Grits was pleased at all the new attention to the Texas bills, and the reference to Governor Moonbeam's veto made me chuckle, I must say that the idea this legislation is "sweeping" or "stricter than any yet seen" is truly sad: After all, the bill only requires a probable-cause warrant, updating Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches of our "persons, houses, papers, and effects" to comport with the realities of 21st century technology. And its focus on location data, from my perspective, is really quite narrow. Far more "sweeping" is legislation proposed by state Rep. John Frullo (HB 2268) and Sen. John Carona (SB 1052), which would essentially eliminate - for personal electronic data of all types, not just location data - the "third-party" doctrine created by the US Supreme Court that allows law enforcement to bypass the Fourth Amendment to access business records held by vendors. That would be a truly radical, though IMO entirely proper and necessary, upgrade to Fourth Amendment doctrine.

As of this morning, Rep. Hughes' location tracking bill had drawn strong bipartisan support - including Republican and Democrat joint-authors and 26 co-authors - and perhaps the media coverage will help boost those numbers even higher.

MORE: From the Texas Electronic Privacy Coalition, of which Grits is a member.

See prior, related Grits posts:

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