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Tennessee bill to ban cellphone tracking is part victory, part loss

A Tennessee state senate bill to ban law enforcement from obtaining cellphone location tracking information without a warrant has passed through both chambers of the legislature, although an amendment was added late in the process that could prove hazardous to privacy rights and necessitates vigilance on the part of people in the Volunteer State..

Introduced by Sen. Mae Beavers (R-17), Senate Bill 2087 (SB2087) passed  the House on Apr. 16 by an 87-2-2 margin. It had previously passed through the Senate by a 28-2 margin. It will now head to Gov. Haslam’s desk to be signed into law. However, an amendment was added at the last minute that weakened the bill.

SB2087 ensures that “no governmental entity shall obtain the location information of an electronic device without a search warrant issued by a duly authorized court” aside from a narrow set of exigent circumstances specifically outlined in the bill. Any information gathered in violation of SB2087 is to be inadmissible in the court of law as well. These provisions are what make the bill effective in protecting individual liberty.

However, an amendment (HA1170) was added to the bill that says warrant requirements are unnecessary if an individual posts their location information on a social media website. This means that anyone in the state of Tennessee who posts their location information online has essentially forfeited their privacy rights for at least 24 hours. So, simply posting a picture of dinner and sharing where you ate it on Facebook could trigger that 24 hour ‘exception’ and open the door to Tennessee government agents tracking you without a warrant While the rest of the bill includes some strong restrictions against tracking locations, people in Tennessee should consider not posting their location on ANY social media sites at any time.

A practical benefit of SB2087 is that it curtails some of the onerous effects of unconstitutional data gathering by the federal government. The NSA collects, stores, and analyzes data on countless millions of people without a warrant, and without even the mere suspicion of criminal activity. 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). A Reuters report that most of this shared data has absolutely nothing to do with national security issues. Most of it involves routine criminal investigations.

This location tracking and data sharing shoves a dagger into the heart of the Fourth Amendment. SB2087 prevents state law enforcement from gathering cell phone location data and sharing it up the chain. It makes information vacuumed up by the feds and shared down the chain inadmissible in court, stopping a dangerous practical effect of NSA spying, assuming people in Tennessee remain vigilant about not voluntarily posting their location on social media.

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