Panel Debates Privacy Bills, Such as Drone Curbs

Updated: 03/11/2014 8:34 PM
Created: 03/11/2014 5:33 AM
By: Beth McDonough

Minnesota laws related to criminal surveillance could be in for a major updating.
On divided voice votes Tuesday, the House Public Safety Committee advanced a pair of bills that impose a higher standard on law enforcement to collect data from cellphones and other electronic location devices. The panel also considered curbs on aerial devices known as drones. 

The bills covers use of the mini-helicopters for surveillance by law enforcement, not everyday citizens, "nobody wants to put a police officer in jeopardy or jeopardize a current investigation but we do want to protect folks for privacy," said to Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL Inver Grove Heights.

Rep. Atkins is backing a law that requires police agencies to get a warrant based on probably that a crime has been committed. That's a higher standard than the current law, which says only a court order with limited information is needed to use drones to gather evidence.

Longtime law enforcers like Rep. Tony Cornish of Vernon Center are concerned a warrant could take too long and jeopardize ongoing investigations. "We just don't like the high bar search warrant with the portability of evidence and the way criminals can get out of dodge, we'd like to be able to react more quickly and don't want our hands tied," Rep. Cornish said.

Since there's no document case of law enforcement using a drone, Rep. Cornish also believes the bill addresses a problem that doesn't exist right now. 

It's that futuristic threat to civil liberties that troubles the American Civil Liberties Union, a defender of privacy rights. "We don't want to see this country drift into Argentine where secret investigations are conducted, people are arrested in secret, we need it done publicly," said Chuck Samuelson, the Executive Director of the ACLU.
Those pushing the measures say Minnesota's laws haven't kept up with technology.

They argue it is too easy for police to use cellphones and drones to track whereabouts and stricter privacy controls are needed.     

The privacy issues have cut across party lines and could be among the hotter topics of the short legislative session.

The drone bills would also forbid even federal agencies from using drones to gather information within the borders of Minnesota.

Both the cellphone and drones bills will be debated again on Friday.

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