SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (June 2, 2021) – On Monday, the Illinois House gave final approval to a bill that would ban police from collecting data from household electronic devices such as Alexa and Ring without a warrant in most situations. The enactment of this legislation would not only protect privacy in Illinois; it would also hinder the ever-expanding national surveillance state.

Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) introduced House Bill 2553 (HB2553) on Feb. 17. Titled the Protecting Household Privacy Act, the proposed law would prohibit government agencies from obtaining household electronic data or directing the acquisition of household electronic data from a private third party. Law enforcement could only access household electronic data with a warrant, with a few exceptions.

On May 29, the Senate passed HB2553 by a 59-0 vote. On May 31, the House concurred with some Senate amendments by a 118-0 vote, sending the bill to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk for his consideration.

Under the proposed law, household electronic data includes any “information or input” provided by a person to a “household electronic device,” including “signs, signals, data, writings, images, video, audio, or intelligence.”  Household electronic device” means any device primarily intended for use within a household that is capable of facilitating any electronic communication, but does not include personal computers, cell phones, or tablets. This would include devices such as Alexa, home surveillance systems, smart appliances, and other electronic devices found within homes.

Police could access household electronic data without a warrant under a few exceptions, including with lawful consent of the owner or the person in possession of the household electronic device, or “in an emergency situation involving a clear and present danger of imminent death or great bodily harm to a person or persons resulting from a kidnapping, abduction, or the holding of a hostage by force or the threat of the imminent use of force.”

If police gather information under the emergency exception, they still must apply for a judicial warrant within 72 hours. If the judge denies the warrant, any information would be inadmissible.

Any data that police gather under the law must be destroyed within 60 days if no criminal charges are filed. Specific information could be retained if there is reasonable suspicion that the information contains evidence of criminal activity, or the information is relevant to an ongoing investigation.

IMPACT ON FEDERAL SURVEILLANCE

The federal government encourages and funds a giant nationwide surveillance net and then taps into the information via fusion centers and the Information Sharing Environment (ISE). Limiting data collection at the state and local levels minimizes the data that can flow into this national system.

Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”

Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.

Reports that the Berkeley Police Department in cooperation with a federal fusion center deployed cameras equipped to surveil a “free speech” rally and Antifa counterprotests provided the first solid link between the federal government and local authorities in facial recognition surveillance.

In a nutshell, without state and local cooperation, the feds have a much more difficult time gathering information. Passage of state laws limiting the collection of surveillance data hinders the federal surveillance state. If there is no data gathered, it can’t be stored in federal databases.

WHAT’S NEXT

Gov. Pritzker will have 60 days from the date HB2553 is transmitted to his office to sign or veto the bill, or it will become law without his signature.


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