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Senate committee passes digital privacy bill

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COURTESY OF G4114IS VIA FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS
  • Courtesy of g4114is via Flickr Creative Commons


By John Sittler

A Senate committee unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would expand privacy laws to accommodate the increased use of digital technology.

The bill's author, Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, said the legislature's challenge is "to define those conditions and circumstances under which the use of certain technologies should be allowed, prohibited or subject to court approval."

House Bill 1009 requires police to obtain a search warrant before using a phone to track a person's location or using an unmanned device - such as a drone - to gather information in most situations. It also requires police to get a warrant before they can demand that a person turns over his or her password for a computer, phone or other electronics device.

And it would set new rules for the way private citizens could use surveillance technology.

Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association said he supports the bill because of language that would protect media.

The bill "is a good kind of buffer to make sure that law enforcement is not able to do an end run around the reporter's privilege that allows newspapers, and radio and TV to protect their sources of information," Key said.

Key cited a case in Muncie in which law enforcement accessed The Star Press' phone records in an effort to identify a newspaper source in the police department. The paper only found out its records had been accessed when they were used as evidence during the meeting in which the officer was fired.

The bill says that if a media outlet's records are subpoenaed, it must be notified so it can appear in court and fight to protect a source.

Steve Gerber, a licensed private investigator, said he supports the goals of the bill but questioned "language that has potential to turn everyday citizens into criminals as an unintended consequence."

Gerber listed families of people in nursing homes and concerned parents as two groups that could be criminalized for surveillance activities under HB 1009.

"These people are trying to gain information to help keep somebody safe or to somehow prevent problems," he said.

But Koch said the bill's language addressed those concerns by specifying that, in order to be illegal, surveillance equipment must be unattended, on private property, without the consent of the owner or tenant.

Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, said he supported the bill because the idea of everyday citizens - in addition to law enforcement - being able to have massive surveillance capabilities seems "kind of Big Brother-ish."

John Sittler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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