Senate bill expands Fourth Amendment protections

Technology. Photo courtesy AVCJ

Law enforcement officers in Florida are able to gather evidence on a person’s location and communication, which can be used to assist in criminal investigations because a warrant is not required to search electronic data.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from Pinellas County, wants to change that. He has filed Senate Bill 144 , which would protect the privacy of cell phones, voice-activated devices such as Google voice, Siri,  Amazon Alexa, and other electronic devices such as GPS location data.

“The Fourth Amendment was designed to guard against all kinds of arbitrary invasive search and seizure by the government, but obviously as time goes on, we have new technologies that need to be included in the Fourth Amendment protections. This bill will define these new technologies and codify the constitutional expectancy of privacy of these technologies against reasonable search warrants,” Brandes said at a news conference.

The bill has been referred to the Criminal Justice, Judiciary, and Rules committees. While in the Judiciary committee, the bill was favored by 10 members.

Some organizations such as the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Florida Public Defenders Association, the Institute for Justice, Americans for Prosperity, Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, and a few others have all issued support for the bill. However, the Florida Police Chiefs Association is opposed.

Vittoria Nastasi, a policy analyst at Reason Foundation, said SB 144 is much needed.

“As digital technology has evolved, it has become home to our personal and private information replacing paper documents that were traditionally stored in file drawers or safes. The government should have to meet the same standards and processes for accessing our personal information in digital form as the constitution set out for information when it existed only in hard copy,” Nastasi said. “SB 144 takes an important first step in protecting Florida citizens in this manner.”

SB 144, would restrict law enforcement to track and review information up to 45 days and within 10 days of the warrant’s termination. The agency would have to provide a warrant copy to the person or property tracked. If any information on a device was obtained without a warrant, it would be inadmissible in court.

Brianna Johnson, a senior criminal justice student at Florida A&M University, is not in favor of the bill.

“Personally I feel as though the bill does more harm than good because it doesn’t protect those who only have proof of abuse via text, phone call , etc. I feel as though this bill just leaves too much room for criminals such as pedophiles, domestic abusers, cyber bullies , etc., to delete information that harms them. I worry that those who are harassed, abused or bullied via the media will be less likely to get help,” Johnson said.

In order for the government to obtain a warrant, a law enforcement agency would have to present facts leading to a reasonable belief that an individual has likely committed a criminal offense.

In the past three years, there have been three bills that were similarly filed that failed in their first committee meetings. So far, during every Senate meeting, there have been over 5 votes in favor for the bill.

SB 144 is currently in the Rules Committee.