Senate committee approves bill protecting information stored on new electronic devices

The Capitolist
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A proposal aimed at ensuring information stored on cell phones and other portable electronic devices would be protected by privacy laws passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 1256 prohibits “the intentional, unlawful access, without authorization, to a cellular phone, portable electronic communication device, or microphone-enabled household device when a person obtains wire, oral, or electronic communications stored within the device.”

The legislation is aimed at protecting the constitutional rights of Floridians by addressing privacy issues that arise in regard to the use of new communications technology.

“We need to make sure Florida laws keep pace with changes in technology,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, the sponsor of the bill. “With more and more families utilizing microphone-enabled communications tools to aid in daily household activities, this legislation makes sure our laws are clear with regard to when and how these devices can be subject to search.”

The legislation would add the term “electronic communications” to the current wording in state law which is limited to “wire and oral” communications.

It would also state that people should have a reasonable expectation of privacy in regard to data that reveals at their exact location. Law enforcement would need to obtain a warrant in order to access the location of a person, cell phone or other portable electronic device.

The measure would also recognize that electronic devices are capable of storing a wide array of personal information and that a person using such a device should also have a “reasonable and justifiable expectation“ of privacy of the information stored.

The bill also acknowledges the growth in microphone-enabled household devices that accept voice commands. Those devices are usually connected to the Internet, meaning those verbal commands and interactions are recorded, as well as daily household information. Brandes says a person should have to choose between using convenient technology, or “preserving the right to privacy in one’s home.”

“Advancements in technology offer law enforcement new techniques for investigation and surveillance as they work to keep criminals off our streets. Likewise, the courts are facing new questions about the Fourth Amendment implications of this technology,” said Sen. President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. “This legislation addresses current ambiguities and protects Floridians from unconstitutional searches of their property.”

The bill has two more committee stops in the Senate before reaching the floor for a full vote.

A similar bill is working its way through the House.

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