Two bills introduced in Texas this week could refine mobile privacy in the state and tweak how law enforcement can request sensitive information from cell phones going forward.
A press release from the Texas Electronic Privacy Coalition (TxEPC) credits Bryan Hughes, a Republican from the town of Mineola for filing one of the bills, House Bill 1608, on Monday. That bill would mandate that a warrant be obtained before “the acquisition of location information obtained from a wireless communications device.” According to the bill, if passed, authorities would need probable cause to believe that:
“(A) criminal activity has been, is, or will be committed; and
(B) acquisition of location information from the device is likely to produce evidence in a criminal investigation of the criminal activity.”
The bill follows up a separate measure filed in the Senate, SB 786 that was authored by Juan Hinojosa, a Democratic member of the Texas Senate early last week.
Along with umbrella groupTxEPC, both Texas chapters of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union are backing the bills arguing that in 2013 the surveillance of people has become easier than ever.
In the press release, Greg Foster, the Vice President of EFF-Austin writes that if passed, the bill would create “reasonable privacy protections for all Texans.”
Cell phone companies can easily collect information that its users store on their phones, including their workplace, relationship status, and search history among other details. The police don’t necessarily need a warrant to get that information, along with a user’s phone calls or text messages, currently.
The Supreme Court unanimously ended warrantless GPS tracking in the beginning of 2012 with United States vs. Jones, but a legal gray area has since left the definition of “GPS tracking” somewhat up in the air. A New York Times report last year verified that mobile phone companies receive thousands upon thousands of requests from law enforcement for their customers’ information each year (1.3 million in 2011) and they routinely comply.
One section of the new Texas bill however would enforce cell phone carriers to disclose how often they receive requests from law enforcement and how much information they ultimately disclose.
“The numbers don’t lie: location tracking is out of control,” Chris Calabrese, the legislative counsel for the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office wrote last summer in response to the report, suggesting that almost a year later, some congressional clarity is still needed when it comes to defining what information can and can’t be tracked.