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TMCNet:  EDITORIAL: Protection and privacy [The Frederick News-Post, Md.]

[December 17, 2013]

EDITORIAL: Protection and privacy [The Frederick News-Post, Md.]

(Frederick News-Post (MD) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Dec. 17--Here in Maryland as elsewhere in the nation, lawmakers are being spurred to action by revelations of an overreaching NSA and the emergence of advanced tracking and surveillance technology.

Making new crime-fighting technology available to law enforcement makes sense, but not unless the general public's right to privacy and the Constitution's Fourth Amendment are preserved in the process.

That challenge is precisely what a new legislative package co-sponsored by two Maryland state senators attempts to address, and we anticipate this will be the first of many pieces of legislation that will focus on this growing concern.

A recent Daily Record story examined the efforts of Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, and Christopher Shank, a Republican representing Washington County, who have sometimes been at odds on law enforcement issues. For instance, they were 180 degrees apart during last session's debate on abolishing the state's death penalty.

Not this time, however. The reason, as Raskin puts it: "It's getting Orwellian out there." Indeed, and it will only get worse as increasingly sophisticated technology becomes available to law enforcement. Unless, of course, lawmakers clearly define the limits and requirements for using such technology.

The senators' bills specifically address cellphone, airborne-drone and license-plate tracking. The bills provide for the use of these new-age tools but specifically define under what circumstances and how they may be employed.

For instance, cellphone and drone-tracking are generally permitted only after authorities have secured a search warrant. A separate bill permits police to use automatic license-plate tracking in an attempt to discover if a vehicle has been used in a crime. But if the results come back negative, police would be required to delete the data.

That would ensure that innocent people are not "being surveilled and recorded for posterity," Raskin says. Shank is also concerned that without these safeguards, police could use tracking technology as a "harassment tool," or for "data mining to track movements" even in the absence of probable cause to suspect someone of unlawful behavior.

Maryland State Police say that they do not employ drone tracking and maintain license-plate recognition information only when the vehicle has been involved in a crime or a civil violation. Still, these bills would provide added protection for the public.

This legislation makes sense in an age when technology has the ability to track and record almost everything a person does -- his comings and goings, conversations, personal life, interests, political activity, preferences in entertainment, etc. Anyone who claims not to care about such intrusions because "I don't do anything wrong" is being naive about the potential for abuse. It also depends on who's deciding what's "wrong." Let's give police agencies access to the best technology available to help them do their jobs and ensure public safety. But let's also continue to cherish the right to privacy and the Fourth Amendment, cornerstones of our free and democratic society.

One final thought: As the NSA revelations make clear, vigorous, independent oversight of surveillance programs and technology is a must. Without verification that they're being used correctly, they can easily become a danger to our privacy and constitutional guarantees.

___ (c)2013 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.) Visit The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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