Saturday, February 22, 2014

Massachusetts: SJC Rules that Warrants are Needed for Data Searches

With the National Security Agency under siege for collecting phone data on millions of Americans, Massachusetts’ highest court said Tuesday that a similar practice is not allowed in the state. 
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled, 5 to 2, that the Massachusetts Constitution prohibits law enforcement investigators from gathering cellphone records that track individuals’ movements without first obtaining a search warrant from a state judge. The ruling makes Massachusetts the latest of several states to set stricter limits on government access to citizens’ phone records.
Matthew Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the ruling is “an enormous victory for everybody in Massachusetts who cares about privacy. It protects people in Massachusetts and gives them rights that Massachusetts law enforcement officers have to respect.” 
In their dissent, however, two judges said the ruling would impose an undue burden on police.
Although the ruling has no bearing on federal surveillance, the issues at stake are similar to privacy questions raised by the NSA’s routine snooping of electronic records of US citizens. Last year, former agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents showing that among the mounds of data the NSA collects on citizens are millions of phone records. 
Federal judges have scrutinized the NSA’s phone data collection practices, with mixed results. In December, Judge Richard Leon of the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the program is probably unconstitutional and issued an injunction against the practice. Leon suspended his order, to allow the federal government to appeal. But also in December, federal Judge William Pauley in New York dismissed a similar lawsuit, finding that the program is legal. 
Segal said that Massachusetts and other states are beginning to define privacy rights in the digital era in the absence of an explicit directive from either Congress or federal courts. 
“It’s an important part of the discussion we’re having right now in the country about surveillance,” Segal said.
Read the rest of the story HERE.

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