New England mobilizes against the surveillance state: Updates from ME, NH and RI

In the states and the cities of New England, unparalleled, cross-partisan, cross-racial coalitions are forming, bringing together libertarians, Tea Party people, technologists, peace and environmental activists, Occupy folks, veterans’ groups, people of color, religious groups and progressive Democrats. The nation may never have seen people of such disparate views united under one banner.

Three examples from just this last month:

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Drawing The Line On Drones: Maine, Massachusetts legislators ponder when drones can be used without a warrant

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Scott Thistle at the Bangor Daily News reports that the Maine Senate is now considering a bill regulating the use of drones.

The bill is the result of consultations including legislators of both parties, the ACLU of Maine, and the Defense of Liberty PAC. It imposes a one-year moratorium on the use of drones by law enforcement in Maine, “except in emergencies”, pending a report from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy on how they could be used. However, the ACLU of Maine is unhappy with the version that has just passed out of the Judiciary Committee on a 7-6 vote, because it would in some circumstances allow police to operate drones without getting a Fourth Amendment compliant warrant. According to Thistle, the bill also does not make clear whether a drone could collect incidental footage that could later be used against a person other than the suspect detailed in a warrant.

There is also a Drone Privacy Act making its way through the Massachusetts legislature, though it is at an earlier stage and has the ACLU of Massachusetts’ strong support.

Perhaps the reason why the Maine bill has lost the support of the ACLU of Maine is that the “emergency exceptions” where a warrant is not required are rather broader in the Maine bill than in the Massachusetts bill. In Maine, the exceptions even include “conspiratorial activity that threatens the national security interest or is characteristic of organized crime”, which is vague, non-imminent, and broad enough to drive a truck through. The Massachusetts bill does not contain exceptions for those things.

Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, also objects to letting the police-run Criminal Justice Academy set the detailed rules for drone use. She states the problem plainly enough:

“The ACLU thinks that law enforcement should have a warrant before spying on Mainers with a drone and the [attorney general] does not. That’s the one issue where we cannot compromise.”

Good on you, Ms. Bellows. You have our full support.