Privacy Act to Limit Govt.'s Power

privacy protectionVERMONT- Amendment IV states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The Bill of Rights was written on September 25, 1789 and although the text reads the same, the interpretations and reality have changed.

In today's society, it seems as if the government wants full control. With the exception of phone records (warrant required), the government is able to tap into nearly every aspect of a civilian's life. Medical records can be found. Essentially, all police records will pop-up via license plate readers in cop cars and even e-mails, text messages, and social media can be tapped into, without the person even knowing. The Federal Government's stance on accessibility to records backs up what they are currently allowed to do. They say that new technology, like license plate readers, give them an upper hand and are very useful in tracking down "potential threats."

Bill S.18, regarding privacy laws, is currently on the Senate Floor. It was read for a first time on January 14,2015. If passed, this piece of legislature would enhance the protection of residents' privacy; requiring the government to have a search warrant for a handful of items. Key components of the Privacy Act include: prohibiting the release of medical records, restricting the use of automated license plate recognition (APLR) by keeping all the suspects' information from the readers confidential, regulating drone usage, as well as vastly enhancing the safety and privacy of cell phones, e-mails, and other online communication.

 Senator Joe Benning, R-Lyndon, is a co-sponsor of Bill S.18 and believes it is the lawmakers' duty to try to make sure the government doesn't overstep their boundaries. "I have a Libertarian streak in me that says the police shouldn't be overreaching whenever they have the opportunity to get new technology, we seem to run away with the technology use as opposed to studying what exactly we're doing," Senator Benning comments.

Senator Benning agrees that the technology can be useful, but the government needs to pay close attention to what they are doing and where that personal information is going. "The automated license plate readers, they were introduced on a couple of new police cars and the idea behind them is that they provide information to police automatically as you're [the police officer] and cars are coming in the opposite direction you can automatically see whether or not that person is: wanted for something, whether they are missing and that kind of thing is real handy for the police to be able to know. Unfortunately, we didn't stop to think that you have all this data that has been collected and has to be stored somewhere. As a matter of fact we have the first 18 months-use of them has resulted in almost 8.5 million hits," Sen. Benning added, "This bill tries to setup some parameters on what the state can and cannot do with that information."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also believe that the Federal Government has too much power and that all of this information and technology could be harmful to citizens. The ACLU released "Surveillance on the Northern Border," which touches upon cellular storage and communication, license plate readers, as well as the lack of restrictions on the usage of drones. The ACLU says "Drones are already authorized to patrol Vermont's border with Canada. Cameras on drones can capture what's going on below. We can hardly go anywhere without being tracked or creating a digital trail that pinpoints our whereabouts. That's a creepy feeling when you think about it, we don't like to be followed like criminal."

Local lawmakers like Co-Sponsors Sen. Joe Benning and Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P - Burlington, have made the initial push for more privacy within the citizen's households by creating S.18, but even looking at it from state officials, they seem to be on the same page as the senators. Representative Peter Welch, D - Vermont, sits on the same side of the fence as Senators Ashe and Benning.

Vermont's legislation has taken action on the matter, but privacy concerns have raised eyebrows nation-wide. Representative Matt Salmon, R-Arizona, took the floor in Washington D.C. and talked about the importance of protection records and files, "I know that with the recent incident with Sony and the hacking of their system, and some of the cyber warfare that's gone on by Russia, now North Korea. A lot of the big government-types are trying to use this as an excuse to come in and assert more and more and more authority. While I do want security as much as the next person, I want to do it within the confines of our constitution."

Currently, there is no specific law in place to protect the citizen's privacy. The only current requirements are for going into phone records and that would need a judge-issued warrant. One of the newest pieces of technology for the state to use are automated license plate readers. With these recognition devices, police are able to scan cars' license plates as they drive by. Once the device reads the plate number, a file with the driver along with other records (warrants, medical files as well as criminal charges) come up along with that particular plate number.

When asked if there could be an argument made for government wanting "full control" and being able to use their advanced technology, Sen. Joe Benning said, "Whenever you any time you get a tool that enables the government to detect and prosecute criminal activity, that's always a good thing to have. The government in this situation now has an ability it has never had before."

Rep. Matt Salmon finished his statement on January 13, 2015 at the Policy Conservative Summit with, "I think we can have our cake and eat it too. That's what our Founding Fathers envisioned. They envisioned a free society. After all, if we give away our freedom, what's it worth? I think we have to fight the fight and do everything we can with vigilance. We all want for the bad guys to be apprehended."

As of right now, Bill S.18 regarding privacy protection is in committee. This bill has been read once on the Senate Floor and has been referred into committee. Now, the committee has the ability to change the language within the bill. If they send it back to the floor, it needs to be read two more times before being passed. There is about a week until "crossover period," where the bill would need to be passed and then moved onto the House where they could ultimately decide the bill's fate. If the bill has not moved onto the House, there is no chance of the bill being passed this legislative session. If all goes according to plan, the Privacy Act could go into effect as early as July 1, 2015.