On the heels of a bill that would increase protection of Internet privacy, Wisconsin legislators introduced a bipartisan bill that would prohibit tracking of cell phones by police unless they have warrants.
The bill would also create a process for obtaining such a warrant, in addition to allowing for certain exceptions for tracking.
One of 22 sponsors of the bill in the assembly, Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, helped develop the bill after initially working on a separate bill regarding social media password protection earlier in the year.
“As I was researching and drafting that bill I had seen people across the country introducing similar bills to [the bill] and had some conversations with various people like Rep. Rob Hutton [R-Brookfield] who was working on something very similar,” Sargent said. “We decided to collaborate and create this bill.”
The bill would directly affect law enforcement because it would introduce a new process for using information obtained from phones in court, Sargent said. Current law allows for officers to simply request the data from telephone companies.
“[The bill] is really in regards to location data available through cell phones,” Sargent said. “This bill will require that law enforcement will get a warrant for the data available through cell phones and other electronic devices.”
Marc Lovicott, spokesperson for University of Wisconsin Police Department, said he was concerned that there would be difficulties in helping protect those at risk of harming themselves or others.
Sargent said this will not be an issue due to stipulations for time-sensitive data, which would allow for law enforcement to collect information without following protocol if, for example, there is a threat of injury or death.
“It’s definitely a Fourth Amendment issue for me, what your expectations of privacy are,” Sargent said. “We need to bring our laws up to date with the time. People don’t realize that law enforcement agencies are able to collect this data without warrant.”
The bill would not limit law enforcement’s ability to collect data so much as to regulate it and ensure that it is admissible in court, Sargent said.
“In the conversations I’ve had with law enforcement, they’re supportive of [the bill],” Sargent said. “They don’t want to get information and have it not be usable in court. They want everything they do to only help with their job. And the fact that we do have exemptions for time-sensitive cases helps quell concern there.”
The bill will affect city and county police departments more than campus police departments due to the nature of information collecting, Lovicott said.
“Our [department doesn’t] have the information to track locations,” Lovicott said. “We work with Dane County. It’s a little too premature for me to comment on how this will affect us.”
Regardless, the police would have a standardized method for taking and using cell phones, Sargent said.
“In my opinion this is going to protect citizens’ privacy,” Sargent said. “It’ll protect your Fourth Amendment right and then give them clean information they can use for prosecution, and not be thrown out in court. They will have gone through getting the information through protocol as opposed to being dismissed by the court.”
Although the bipartisan bill just entered into the introduction phase, Sargent said she is looking forward to the bill passing in the spring and “so far [the sponsors] are hearing good things.”