At a time when rolling back federal surveillance programs seems particularly challenging, we can still have a major effect here at the state level. Recently, Attorney-General Martha Coakley proposed a new bill that would actually loosen Massachusetts’ wiretapping laws – by a lot. The bill, called “An Act Updating The Wire Interception Law” (S. 654 / H. 3261), is coming up for a hearing before the Judiciary Committee of the Massachusetts legislature on July 9, along with a stack of other privacy-related legislation that might actually be good.
The wiretapping bill’s major provisions:
1) Remove the requirement that an electronic wiretapping warrant be connected with organized crime, or indeed with serious crimes more generally. Potentially, even minor crimes like marijuana possession could become eligible for wiretapping by state authorities.
2) Double the length of an authorized wiretap, from 15 to 30 days.
3) Legalize mass interception of communications at telecommunications switching stations, rather than through individual wiretaps on individual phone numbers.
The mass interception provisions in this bill are new, and are especially worrying. Both the Fourth Amendment and our own state constitution’s Article XIV forbid ‘general warrants’ that tap entire streams of personal information without specifying ahead of time what’s being searched for and whose records are being searched. So my group Digital Fourth, in coalition with the ACLU of Massachusetts, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has launched a petition to oppose this bill.
I’d be very grateful to you as a member of the BMG community, if you’d sign it and tell your friends! Don’t be one of those Democrats who opposes this stuff only when the other side does it!
UPDATE (by David): I received the following response to this post from the Attorney General’s office today. I have reprinted it in its entirety.
The above blog post includes inaccuracies that are highly misleading about the changes our office has proposed to the currently outdated Massachusetts wiretap law. Updating the wiretap law is a critical tool to combatting gang violence, gun violence, human trafficking, and many other violent crimes that undermine public safety in our communities. And equally important to what it does, is what it does not do. One thing it does not do is alter in any way the many safeguards already put in place under the current wiretap statute to protect against abuse.
I will explain some of the benefits of this new law further below, but first want to correct some of the inaccuracies in this blog post: