Legislature and guv butt heads on privacy

Surveillance State  
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  July 10, 2013

Amid international controversy about privacy and surveillance (see "You Are Being Watched," last week's Phoenix cover story), Maine put two new privacy laws on the books. Governor Paul LePage vetoed two others, which the legislature had the opportunity to override on Tuesday.

The two bills that became law (both without the governor's signature) are:

• LD 1377, "An Act to Protect Cellular Telephone Privacy," sponsored by state senator Roger Katz (R-Augusta). The bill, which easily passed both the senate and house, requires law enforcement officials to get a warrant based on probable cause before accessing an individual's cell phone records. It requires that the owner or user of the device be notified when electronic information is obtained. It also "authorizes the Attorney General to designate a law enforcement officer to obtain such content information without a warrant in cases in which there is an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury or a threat to national security."

• LD 1040, "An Act to Prohibit the Placement of Cameras and Electronic Surveillance Equipment on Private Property without the Written Permission of the Landowner," sponsored by state senator Doug Thomas (R-Ripley). This bill, which became law on June 29, was challenged by the Maine Warden Service and other law enforcement officials, who claimed crimes like poaching, methamphetamine production, and marijuana cultivation would increase as a result of implementation. Still, the legislature sided with privacy advocates.

On Monday, Governor LePage vetoed:

• LD 415, "An Act to Require a Warrant to Obtain the Location Information of a Cell Phone or Other Electronic Device," also sponsored by senator Katz. This would have been the first bill in the country to impose a warrant requirement for tracking cell phones and other mobile devices (except in life-threatening emergency situations). The Maine State Police and the Chiefs of Police Association opposed the legislation, and in his veto letter, LePage echoed their concerns. "This bill simply goes too far," he wrote. "Many crimes we all know about would not have been solved, or would have taken significantly more man-hours, if this law had been in place . . . Maine does not have the resources necessary to fully staff our State Police, let alone inappropriately use cell phone location data." In the same letter, LePage indicated that he supports LD 1377 and LD 1040, though he did not sign them. On Tuesday, legislators overrode his veto.

• LD 236, "An Act to Protect the Privacy of Citizens from Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Use," sponsored by state senator John Patrick (D-Rumford). This drone-regulation bill would have required the consent of the subject person, a warrant or court order for drone deployment (with certain caveats for emergency or national security situations). In his veto letter, LePage said the bill would lead to lawsuits, and that "we do not have a drone problem in Maine." He also made an economic argument: "Unmanned vehicles are here and the technology is not going away," LePage wrote. "We have great, former military resources here at Loring and in Brunswick and this bill says manufacturers can come to Maine or stay in Maine, but Maine will not purchase your product." The governor did say he would sign an executive order directing the Commissioner of Public Safety to establish guidelines around use of drones. Lawmakers failed to override the governor's veto of this bill.

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