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The Battle For Privacy Continues: Several Bills Pass, Others Still Moving Forward

As the 2015 state legislative season begins to wind down, OffNow can report several victories for privacy, along with a number of bills still alive and working through the process.

Three bills that would end material support to the NSA and other federal agencies engaged in warrantless surveillance remain alive.

A Texas bill was recently introduced would stop the independent Texas power grid from being used to power mass, warrantless surveillance by the NSA. If passed, HB3916 would ultimately turn off water and electric service to the massive Texas Cryptologic Center in San Antonio. The bill has not received a public hearing to date.

A Maine bill that would turn off support and resources to the NSA in the Pine Tree State continues to slowly make its way through the committee process, but faces powerful opposition from law enforcement lobbyists. A similar Alaska bill faces the same kind of opposition. In fact, law enforcement agencies have opposed virtually every privacy measure introduced across the country this year.

Despite fierce opposition from powerful law enforcement lobbyists, we have a number of success stories in the 2015 legislative season to report.

We’ve seen the best results in the battle against warrantless drone surveillance.

North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple signed HB1328 last week. The new law requires law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before deploying a drone for surveillance purposes with only a few exceptions and bans weaponized drones. With Dalrymple’s signature, North Dakota became the 11th state to place restrictions on the use of drones by law enforcement.

Washington could become number 12. The Washington state legislature passed a similar bill earlier this month. HB1639 awaits the governor’s signature.

The Virginia Assembly passed a pair of bills that would replace a two-year ban on drones approved in 2013 with permanent restrictions, including a warrant requirement for surveillance in most cases. The governor refused to sign the bill, sending it back to the Assembly with recommended amendments. The Assembly rejected his suggestion, and the bill now awaits Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s final decision.

A bill that would strengthen existing drone restrictions in Florida by including a ban on the use of imaging devices on unmanned aircraft continues to work its way through the legislative process, and bills limiting drone surveillance remain alive in several other states, including California and Massachusetts.

OffNow founder and deputy director Michael Boldin said persistence was a big part in the success of measures to limit drone use across the country.

“The issue started getting some attention in 2012, but it wasn’t until Virginia passed its two-year moratorium on drones in 2013 that we really started to see widespread action. That kind of set the stage, and then Florida passed its bill requiring a warrant for drone surveillance later that year. But it wasn’t until 2014 and carrying into this year, that we started to see widespread legislative success.  It just goes to show these campaigns take time to build and bear fruit. You can’t expect it to happen all in one year,” he said.

A number of states began addressing the use of Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs) this year. The Virginia assembly passed a bill that would limit law enforcement use of ALPRs and put tight restrictions on sharing and storage of data collected by the devices. Like the drone bill, Gov. McCauliffe refused to sign the bill and sent amendments back to the Assembly. They House and Senate approved a few, rejected others and sent the legislation back to the governor for final approval.

A similar bill was just introduced in North Carolina, and legislation continues to move forward in Oregon, Texas, Missouri, Illinois and Massachusetts.

Police militarization was another issue that pushed to the forefront this year. Two states passed bills to limit state and local law enforcement procurement of military hardware from the federal government.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed S2364 into law last month, banning local law enforcement agencies from obtaining this equipment without first getting approval from their local government. In most states, these military transfers happen directly between the feds and local police, as if they make up part of the same government. This law interposes the local government in the process, giving the people of New Jersey the power to end it, and at the least, forcing the process into the open.

The Montana legislature passed a more aggressive measure, banning state and local police from obtaining some types of military hardware. HB330 also stipulates that a law enforcement agency purchasing allowable military equipment must use state or local funds, prohibiting federal funding of such gear. It also requires agencies give public notice within 14 days of a request for allowable military equipment. Both of these provisions ensure any procurement of military equipment still allowed under law will happen in the public spotlight. The bill awaits Gov. Steve Bullock’s signature.

The Washington legislature sent a bill to end the unlimited use of stingray devices in the state to the governor’s desk. HB1440 prohibits stingray use without a warrant, informed consent of the target, or legally recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement.

Another important privacy bill continues to move through the Oregon assembly. A bipartisan Oregon bill that would prohibit law enforcement from obtaining information from electronic devices without a warrant in most cases unanimously passed a Senate committee last week.

A Texas bill that would prohibit law enforcement from obtaining location data from electronic devices without a warrant in most cases also continues to move through the state House. HB2263 would require state and local law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before obtaining location data from an electronic device unless the device is reported stolen by the owner, there exists an immediate life-threatening situation, or if a law enforcement officer reasonably believes a fugitive with a felony arrest warrant issued possesses the device.

The successes so far this year create a solid foundation for future action, but it’s important to keep pressing ahead and not ease up. It took medical marijuana advocates 10 years to finally pass a bill legalizing cannabis for medical use in Illinois. Legislative initiatives take time, persistence and perseverance.

At OffNow, we are committed to a long-term fight to protect privacy. Please join in and support our efforts by getting involved in your state.

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