NSA-Style Phone Tapping Coming to Massachusetts? New alliance of civil liberties groups opposes massive expansion of Massachusetts wiretapping law
Alex Marthews, President, Digital Fourth, 781 258-2936, email@example.com
The recent NSA spying scandals have rocked the DC establishment and shocked the public. However, that hasn’t stopped a new bill before the Mass. Legislature that actually loosens Massachusetts’ wiretapping laws (Mass. Gen. Laws. 272.99). Digital Fourth, a new group named in honor of the 4th Amendment, is leading a coalition of six civil liberties groups to oppose the bill, and is launching a petition campaign today.
The bill, called “An Act Updating The Wire Interception Law” (S. 654 / H. 3261), will come up for a hearing before the Judiciary Committee of the Massachusetts legislature on July 9. Its 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.
Alex Marthews, founder of Digital Fourth, comments, “The mass interception provisions 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. This bill undermines basic liberties that have served us well for over two hundred years.”
As this bill and other privacy legislation come before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, the nation’s eyes are on Massachusetts. Will our Legislature react to the recent terrorist attacks with panic, throwing away two centuries of our historic commitment to civil liberties? Will they allow state law enforcement the kind of Orwellian powers to track our phone calls that Congress unwisely gave to federal intelligence agencies? Or will they set an example for how Americans can roll back an increasingly intrusive surveillance state?