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General Assembly Passes Landmark Privacy Bill

Sixty-one agencies in 23 states are known to possess stingray technology. (ACLU.org)
Sixty-one agencies in 23 states are known to possess stingray technology. (ACLU.org)
May 6, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. - A landmark cellphone privacy bill is on its way to Gov. Danell Malloy's desk.

House Bill 5640 already had passed in the House by a vote of 140 to zero, and Wednesday night it cleared the Senate also without a single dissenting vote.

Since 2005, police have received more than 14,000 court orders to obtain people's cellphone information.

According to David McGuire, legislative and policy director for the ACLU of Connecticut, this measure will raise the standard police need to meet to get access to cellphone content and location data.

"That standard changes from reasonable suspicion to probably cause, the warrant standard," says McGuire. "In our mind, that ensures that police don't go on fishing expeditions."

The bill also limits to 14 days the length of time data not being used in an ongoing investigation can be retained by police. Governor Malloy is expected to sign the bill into law.

Under the current law, police are required to inform people that they have accessed their cellphone data. But McGuire says the ACLU obtained copies of orders and found that hasn't been happening.

"We found hundreds of people that were not ultimately prosecuted or charged with a crime," says McGuire. "And we called several of them and asked them whether they had ever received notification that they were tracked, and none of them had."

The new bill requires police to file a copy of the notification letter with the court that issues the warrant.

The bill also requires police to get a warrant to use "stingrays," devices that imitate cellphone towers, locking on to signals to track them with great precision, a provision McGuire says puts Connecticut at the forefront of protecting privacy rights.

"This is one of the first states in the country that would regulate stingray technologies," he says. "So this is very much a bill that deals with current tracking issues as well as cutting-edge and future tracking issues."

The ACLU has identified 61 agencies in 23 states that are known to possess stingray technology, although the actual number may be higher.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - CT