JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Feb. 3, 2023) – A bill introduced in the Missouri House would ban reverse keyword and reverse location searches. Passage of the legislation would not only protect privacy in Missouri; it would also hinder the growth of the federal surveillance state.
Rep. Ben Baker (R) introduced House Bill 762 (HB762) on Jan. 11. The legislation would ban reverse keyword search warrants that compel the disclosure of records or information identifying any unnamed person who searched for particular words, phrases, or websites, or who visited a particular website through a link generated by such a search, regardless of whether the order is limited to a specific geographic area or time frame. It would also ban reverse location court orders that compel the disclosure of records or information pertaining to electronic devices or their users whose scope extends to an unknown number of electronic devices present in a given geographic area at a given time as measured via a global positioning system coordinates, cell tower connectivity, wifi data, or any other form of location detection.
The proposed law would prohibit any government entity from making a voluntary request for a reverse keyword or reverse location data.
HB762 includes a process to suppress information gathered in violation of the laws and creates a cause of action in state court for an individual whose records were obtained by a government entity in violation of the provisions of the bill.
In effect, the passage of HB762 would end a process called “geofencing.” Reverse search warrants authorize police to search broad geographical areas to determine who was near a given place at a given time. In practice, these warrants give police permission to use Google location data to engage in massive fishing expeditions and subject hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people to police location tracking. According to the New York Times, federal agents first utilized the practice in 2016. According to the report, these broadly construed warrants help police pinpoint possible suspects and witnesses in the absence of other clues. Google employees said the company often responds to a single warrant with location information on dozens or hundreds of devices. Police can gather similar information using cell-site simulators, often called “stingrays.”
IMPACT ON FEDERAL SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMS
The feds can share and tap into vast amounts of information gathered at the state and local level through fusion centers and a system known as the “information sharing environment” or ISE. In other words, stingrays create the potential for the federal government to track the movement of millions of Americans with no warrant, no probable cause, and without the people even knowing it.
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.
Limiting information collected by state and local law enforcement agencies limits the amount of information that can flow into federal databases through fusion centers and the ISE.
HB762 was referred to the House Committee on Government Accountability where it must pass by a majority vote. A public hearing is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 6.
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