Texas Legislature Introduces Bills To Curtail Warrantless Smartphone Tracking

IT Management

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Did you know that the federal government can request your smartphone location data without a warrant? It happens quite often, but there's not been much progress made in the way of legislation curtailing this particular practice. One state has had enough, however, and it intends to put a stop to it.

Slate reports that both the Texas state Senate and House have introduced bills that would amend the Texas code of criminal procedure to stop what it feels is the warrantless surveillance of its citizens. Both bills would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before requesting location data from any cellular carrier.

In even better news, the bills would require any and all carriers that operate in the state to produce annual transparency reports. These reports will detail the number of surveillance requests made, and tell citizens which agencies requested the information. For now, we only know the total number of data requests made so a list of the agencies making the requests would be valuable.

Under the proposed bills, the government wouldn't be able to keep court orders for surveillance hidden either. The court would only have 180 days of secrecy before being forced to unseal the order and make it available to the public.

Some may be concerned over the proposed bills impact on law enforcement, but there are some exemptions in place to keep serious investigations under wraps. For starters, law enforcement can still get a court authorized surveillance order without a warrant if the situation is deemed exceptional. The court order will also remain under wraps if it being made public would hurt the investigation.

There are similar bills being proposed in Washington, such as Al Franken's Location Privacy Protection Act of 2012, that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant when seeking smartphone location data. Unfortunately, the bill died with the old Congress at the end of last year, but Franken will no doubt bring it up again. Even then, it has little chance to pass as too many in Washington feel that the needs of law enforcement to trample on your Fourth Amendment rights take priority over your personal privacy.

That being said, the states are the next battleground for this important issue. You can expect some opposition to show up, but the Texas legislature has a track record of defying the folks in Washington. We might even see some serious fireworks if the bills progress far enough.