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Senate Passes Bill to Protect Privacy of Personal Electronic Information

July 23, 2014

privacy

The Massachusetts Senate today unanimously passed legislation updating privacy protections for personal electronic information, lead sponsor of the bill Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) announced. The Electronic Privacy Act would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant to access personal information derived from telecom customers’ cell phone and internet use.

“The fundamental right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure is firmly entrenched in our state’s history,” Senator Spilka said. “Our phones and laptops store some of our most private thoughts and details of our everyday movements and activities, and this personal information should not be open to government inspection without a warrant. This bill strengthens public safety and protects the privacy of law-abiding people, updating our search warrant laws to fit the realities of the digital age.”

Under current law, law enforcement officers can gain access to personal information through phone, email and internet service providers. Personal information obtained without a search warrant might include: a person’s physical location; who the person communicates with and the timing, length and content of those communications; pictures and documents stored on an internet company’s remote server; all emails older than 180 days; and other usage and billing information.

The Electronic Privacy Act implements warrant requirements for obtaining personal electronic information held by electronic service providers and prevents providers from divulging such information to law enforcement, except when served with a warrant.

The bill also defines personal information to include a customer’s location information, protecting individuals from being tracked by law enforcement through their cell phone or wireless signals without probable cause.

Additionally, the bill establishes procedures for notifying individuals when the government obtains their personal information through a warrant and provides for exceptions to the law in emergency situations.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

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