Stricter privacy proposed for text messages
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Stricter privacy proposed for text messages

Date: January 30, 2014
By: Emma Nicolas
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 1388

JEFFERSON CITY -  The government would need a search warrant to access messages, location, and Internet search history and other data stored on cell phones under a measure presented to the House Downsizing Government Committee Thursday, Jan. 30.

"The data you're able to collect off a cell phone is pretty powerful... law enforcement officials can now access a pretty clear picture of your entire life," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Robert Cornejo, R-St. Peters. He said he wants government officials to have to get a search warrant before accessing all that information.

Cornejo said most people would assume their cell phones would be protected under the Fourth Ammendment, but the Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on that. Cornejo pointed out that in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that police need a warrant before installing a GPS in a criminal's car. Now, police stations are able to track anyone's cell phone and determine their location without consent or proof of probable cause.

Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, said he thought the bill could interfere with high speed car chases and criminal surveillance.

"I appreciate what you're doing in terms of privacy, but I want to make sure we don't hamstring law enforcement in legitimate activities," White said.

Crystal Williams, from the American Civil Liberties Union, said her group supports the bill.  She said in 2011, a group of ACLU affiliates filed more than 380 public records requests to determine the cell phone tracking policies of police stations. She said these records indicated that 250 police stations responded and said they do track cellular devices. According to the ACLU , the majority of those 250 police stations track cell phones without a warrant or proof of probable cause.

"This act would finally address the fact that technology has gotten ahead of policy," Williams said.

Government entities that conduct unwarranted searches would be fined a $50 penalty fee for each breach of privacy. Rep. Chrissy Sommers, R-St.Charles, said the fee may not be steep enough. Sommers is not the first to have this concern, and Cornejo said he is willing to increase the penalty.

As is usual at a bill's hearing, the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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