On March 23, the Maryland Senate passed a bill to prohibit the state from obtaining warrantless location data, but included amended language which severely limits its scope and allows continued NSA data sharing with state and local law enforcement.
SB 698 was intended to place strict limits on Maryland law enforcement seeking location information obtained through cell phones or other electronic devices by requiring a warrant. As originally drafted, the legislation declared “an agent of the state or a political subdivision of the state may not obtain location information without a warrant.” The legislation not only created the warrant requirement for state and local police, it also banned them from “obtaining” data gathered without a warrant by federal agencies. This would have stopped the sharing of unconstitutionally gathered data through fusion centers or the DEA Special Operations Division – a regular occurrence.
That language was stripped from the bill.
The legislation now reads, “a court may issue an order authorizing or directing a law enforcement officer to obtain location information from an electronic device” under certain conditions.
Supporters of the bill say the language does offer some improvement over the status quo and was the best they could get passed given the current political climate. But as passed, the legislation no longer prohibits state law enforcement in Maryland from obtaining and using unconstitutionally gathered data shared with them by federal agencies.
As reported by Reuters in Aug. 2013, the secretive Special Operations Division (SOD) is “funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.” Documents obtained by Reuters show that these cases “rarely involve national security issues,” and the SOD directs local law enforcement to “conceal how such investigations truly begin.”
Additionally, particularly problematic language now in the bill allows location data collection on a person who might commit a crime. The court can issue the order if probable cause exists that “a misdemeanor or felony has been, is being or will be committed by the owner or user of the electronic device or by the individual about whom location information is being sought.”
The Senate unanimously passed the amended measure 46-0.
The House passed the companion bill (HB1161) with the same amendment language 135-0.
The bills will now go to a conference committee for final approval.