Illinois House Passes Bill to Limit Warrantless Location Tracking, Hinder Federal Surveillance State

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Last week, the Illinois House unanimously passed a bill that would expand a state law barring warrantless location tracking to include historical location data. Passage of this bill would not only strengthen privacy protections in Illinois, but it will also take another step toward hinder the federal surveillance state.

Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) along with a bipartisan coalition of cosponsors, introduced House Bill 2134 (HB2134) on Feb. 6. Under current law, police must get a court order based on probable cause before obtaining a person’s current or future location information. HB2134 would remove the words “current or future” from the statute. In effect, this would include historical location information under the court order requirement.

On April 4, the House approved HB2134 by a 113-0 vote.

IMPACT ON FEDERAL SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMS

The feds can share and tap into vast amounts of information gathered at the state and local level through fusion centers and a system known as the “information sharing environment” or ISE. In other words, stingrays create the potential for the federal government to track the movement of millions of Americans with no warrant, no probable cause, and without the people even knowing it.

Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”

Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.

Limiting information collected by state and local law enforcement agencies limits the amount of information that can flow into federal databases through fusion centers and the ISE.

PARALLEL CONSTRUCTION

By prohibiting the collection of location information “obtained” without a court order would hinder one practical effect of NSA spying in Illinois.

Information released by Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers revealed the NSA tracks the physical location of people through their cellphones. In late 2013, the Washington Post reported that NSA is “gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world.” This includes location data on “tens of millions” of Americans each year – without a warrant.

We also know the NSA shares this information with state and local law enforcement. Reuters revealed the extent of such NSA data sharing with state and local law enforcement in an August 2013 article. According to documents obtained by the news agency, the NSA passes information to police through a formerly secret DEA unit known Special Operations Divisions and the cases “rarely involve national security issues.” Almost all of the information involves regular criminal investigations, not terror-related investigations.

In other words, not only does the NSA collect and store this data, using it to build profiles, the agency encourages state and local law enforcement to violate the Fourth Amendment by making use of this information in their day-to-day investigations.

This is “the most threatening situation to our constitutional republic since the Civil War,” Binney said.

WHAT’S NEXT

HB2134 will now move to the Senate for further consideration.

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