Disclosure: Author has donated to the ACLU in the past.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has launched what they call #TakeCTRL, an initiative to work with lawmakers in various states as well as the District of Columbia to introduce a slew of pro-privacy bills.
The states and district the ACLU is working to introduce these laws in are Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. The proposed laws include reforms on who has access to personal information, restrictions on cell site simulators (colloquially known as Stingrays), and social media privacy.
The ACLU has maintained that the law has not kept up with technology on many fronts with regards to the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure by the government, but also to information demanded by prying employers in addition to what the state can consider to be unreasonable. An example they use to demonstrate the lag in law is the case of Blake Robbins, the Pennsylvania student that had a school issued laptop that was taking pictures without his knowledge. The school had claimed the webcam was only activated remotely by them if the laptop was reported lost or stolen, but it was later found that it was set to take a picture every fifteen minutes. In that case, no school district employees were charged because the state and federal prosecutors were unable to demonstrate criminal intent. They also use the case of Robert Collins, a corrections officer in Maryland that was required to allow the department to review his Facebook page during an interview. This has been a common practice in some areas, although some states, such as Illinois, have prohibited this practice.
Personal data privacy is listed as the first issue in #TakeCTRL, because most laws regarding electronic communication were established in the 1980’s. The ACLU notes “For example, due to the technological methods by which email was accessed and reviewed in the 1980s, under federal law, any emails that are more than 180 days old are considered “abandoned” and law enforcement does not need a warrant to read them.”
Tackling the use of cell site simulators is also considered a high priority. Most police departments as well as the FBI have maintained no warrant is required for their use despite them indiscriminately picking up cell signals from anyone in a particular location rather than the specific person(s) being investigated. The FBI has also been known to drop criminal cases when their use is challenged in an apparent attempt to avoid judicial scrutiny of that method and the device use. Details and other items on their list can be seen here.
However, if enacted, these laws will only affect the agents of the individual states. Federal agencies such as the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, US Marshalls, or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms would be unaffected by any reform unless enacted at a federal level or if the laws were overturned by a federal court. #TakeCTRL does not target the federal government at this time.
These laws are sorely needed. As the ACLU notes, many laws regarding telecommunications and privacy have not been meaningfully updated since the 1980’s. Many would be shocked to know that emails older than 180 days old are considered to have no legal privacy. #TakeCTRL is a good step to start bringing them into the realities of today.