These three articles caught my eye this week:
1. New bill in Lansing would allow police to obtain your cell phone location without a warrant
2. Michigan State Police want to use drones...but only for emergencies
3. The feds have a database and are tracking millions of vehicles, including Michigan vehicles, via "federal, state and local" license plate readers
The first article talks about a bill reintroduced by Rep. Kurt Heise. It would force cell phone companies to give law enforcement the location of a cell phone without a warrant in so-called emergencies. Who gets to define when an emergency occurs? The law enforcement agency. And the penalties for misuse - none. And as one legislator mentioned on a Facebook post of mine this week, "It is completely unnecessary, since the phone companies, after the unfortunate case of Kelsey whom the law is named for, readily give out this information upon request to law enforcement in emergency situations such as missing or abducted persons."
The second article has the state police wanting to use drones with cameras throughout Michigan...but only for "emergencies". The article indicates that they may be the first state police department in the nation to be given permission by the FAA to use drones throughout its state. Who did the state police NOT go to get permission? From Michigan citizens, via the legislature. As a matter of fact, law enforcement fought my efforts last session in the Michigan House to put reasonable restrictions on the use of government drones - to only allow their use in cases of imminent danger (eg. barricaded gunman...car crashes) and when they have a warrant. It also would have put guidelines for retention of data collected, require reporting and impose penalties for misuse. It did get a hearing by Rep. Heise's committee (and he was even a co-sponsor), but didn't get out of committee. It was clear from meetings I had with law enforcement that they wanted nothing less than unfettered use of drones.
The third article talks about how the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has a massive database where they track vehicles across the United States - thanks in part to state and local license plate readers. Many city and county law enforcement agencies in Michigan are using them and apparently feeding the data to the Feds. Last session I tried to put restrictions on license plate readers used by state and local governments, like limit data retention (generally, to one day) and require reporting. It didn't get a hearing by Rep. Heise's Criminal Justice committee.
So we have cell phone tracking without a warrant, Big Brother in the sky and tracking our vehicles with license plate readers. Add to these, the use by at least one major county in Michigan of military-style surveillance equipment that, by its very nature, violates the 4th amendment - and though the Oakland County Sheriff claims to get warrants for its use, the department refused to help me see even one of the warrants and claims FOIA exemptions whenever the public or media wants information about the use of the equipment.
And then there is the use of "geonets" via Fusion centers in Michigan. Last session, the ACLU Legislative Director and I were invited to tour the Lansing Fusion center, where I found out that they cast a geonet during certain events (like Detroit's Hart Plaza during downtown events and over MSU when couch burning events may occur). They then can "suck up text messages" as it was explained - as they look for key words like "couch" or "gun"...and if they get a hit, one member of the Fusion center said they can find the person's name who sent the text and their general location....without a warrant.
Finally, I expect the Michigan State Police to roll out mass facial recognition devices soon, similar to Ohio's (though they will likely be a little smarter than Ohio in their rollout). I heard increased rumblings of this last session. Will they ask the legislature to place restrictions on them? Don't hold your breath.
Using technology advances to catch bad guys and find lost children is good. But warrantless, mass surveillance is not. Laws have unintended (or disturbingly intended?) consequences. We shouldn't just shrug our shoulders and accept the growth of Big Brother. Lines must be drawn.
Bottom Line: We need legislators to (a) block legislation giving even more intrusive authority that violates our privacy to the government and (b) push for reasonable restrictions and reporting on the use of technology like government drones and other surveillance devices, as well as penalties for misuse - to protect our privacy.