Dartmouth (MA) Rep. Chris Markey’s Amendment #1174 to H4400 (the FY2019 budget) was written to broaden wiretapping in the Commonwealth because — he claims — rising crime rates make it necessary:
“The general court further finds that within the commonwealth there has been an increase in violence, with and without weapons, that has taken the lives of many. Such acts are not the product of highly organized and disciplined groups. […] Therefore, the general court finds that the use of [modern electronic surveillance devices] devices by law enforcement officials, as it relates to investigations of violent offenses, must be conducted under strict judicial supervision and without the need to prove that a highly organized and disciplined group committed such violent acts.”
But Markey’s amendment is based on fiction. Crime in Massachusetts is not increasing. It is actually falling and has been since about 1992. Last September the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety released figures from the FBI showing that, once again, Massachusetts crime had fallen by 6.3%. The MetroWest Daily News dug into the FBI’s figures and showed that, while violent crime has risen nationally, it remains static in Massachusetts with rates significantly lower than national averages. For example, the national murder rate is 5.3 per 100,000. In Massachusetts that number is 2.0. In 2016 the Commonwealth (with a population of almost 7 million) had 134 murders compared with 486 in Tennessee, a state with roughly the same population.
But worse than being dishonest with the public about crime rates, Markey’s amendment lowers the bar on legal requirements for wiretaps and electronic surveillance. Surveillance today rarely target only the suspected offender. Cell tower dumps, for example, compromise the privacy of everyone who has connected to the tower. Stingrays, WiFi and packet sniffing are also pretty indiscriminate.
Markey’s amendment, and Republican Bradley Jones’ companion amendment #515, are efforts to sneak bad legislation into the budget — legislation that police and district attorneys have long wanted. The ACLU notes that “prosecutors in Massachusetts can [ALREADY] obtain all of this information and more without any judicial oversight. And a recent ACLU investigation shows they’re using this power extensively, and largely in the dark.” Markey’s legislation does nothing to improve judicial oversight. But it makes surveillance much easier for prosecutors to abuse.
In filing his amendment, Markey reveals that his old law enforcement buddies are his true constituents — not the average citizen who is getting damn tired of having everyone from spy agencies to socal networks violating his privacy every minute of the day.