A bill introduced this week in the Minnesota Senate would prohibit a federal-local surveillance collaboration that the NSA’s former chief technical director called the “biggest threat since the civil war.”
Introduced by Sen. Branden Petersen (R Dist. 35), SF33 stipulates that “a government entity may not obtain personal identifying information concerning an individual without a search warrant. A court order granting access to this information must be issued only if the government entity shows that there is probable cause for belief that the individual who is the subject of the personal identifying information is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a criminal offense.”
The legislation defines personal information as the “identity, location, or activities of an individual.”
The bill allows for a few exceptions to the warrant requirement, including if the owner of an electronic device reports it stolen, in response to a call for emergency services, informed consent by the owner or legal guardian and in a “a potentially life-threatening situation.”
SF33 also prohibits state governmental entities from forcing electronic communications providers to provide stored electronic data without a warrant, and requires destruction of legally obtained data within 60 days without a court order.
Any data obtained in violation of the law would be inadmissible for “any purpose in any action, proceeding, or hearing.”
Even though the bill does not directly address data gathered by federal agencies, prohibiting state and local agencies from “obtaining” data gathered without a warrant would make warrantless data gathered by spy agencies like the NSA inadmissible in state courts. This would effectively end a practical effect of NSA spying.
NSA collects, stores, and analyzes data on countless millions of people without a warrant, without even the mere suspicion of criminal activity. The NSA also tracks the physical location of people through their cellphones. In late 2013, the Washington Post reported that NSA is “gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world.” This includes location data on “tens of millions” of Americans each year – without a warrant.
Through fusion centers, state and local law enforcement act as information recipients from various federal departments under Information Sharing Environment (ISE). ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence, which is an umbrella covering 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. State and local law enforcement share data up the chain with the feds.
The NSA expressly shares warrantless data with state and local law enforcement through a super-secret DEA unit known as the Special Operations Division (SOD). That information is being used for criminal prosecutions.
A Reuters report last fall showed that most of this shared data has absolutely nothing to do with national security issues. Most of it involves routine criminal investigations. This data sharing shoves a dagger into the heart of the Fourth Amendment.
In an interview last fall, former NSA technical chief William Binney called NSA information sharing “the most threatening situation to our constitutional republic since the Civil War.”
“That’s what happens when you allow this kind of assembly of information – that’s so much power. That’s like J. Edgar Hoover on super-steroids,” he said. “This is not compatible with any form of democracy at all.”
Passage of SF33 into law would prohibit this from happening in Minnesota.