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New Maine law prohibits law enforcement from tracking cell phones

Police officers

Citizens who don’t want their location tracked via cell phone may want to relocate to Maine.

The Pine Tree State enacted a law Tuesday that prohibits law enforcement from tracking personal cell phones — both in real time and historically — without a warrant. If law enforcement does want to track a suspect’s movement using the devices, then officers must go before a judge and receive a warrant.

Additionally, as reported by Slate, the bill requires authorities to notify a person if he or she was tracked within three days. Law enforcement can, however, attempt to prove that secrecy is needed, avoiding the three-day threshold.

Maine is only the second state to join in the crusade to protect citizens’ civil liberties, joining Montana, which passed a similar bill last month. And in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed legislation requiring all state law enforcement to obtain a warrant before searching through Texans’ emails.

But in New Jersey, the state Senate debated a bill that would do quite the opposite, giving authorities the power to scour through cell phone records sans a warrant. The legislation was designed to aid police in tackling cell-phone related traffic accidents, but opponents said it was a violation if one’s Fourth Amendment rights.

The laws come on the heels of the National Security Agency’s meta data collection from citizen’s cell phones and PRISM program, leaked to The Guardian by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and uncovered by The Washington Post, respectively.

However, Maine’s law only applies to local and state agencies. The federal government, to the contrary, still has the ability to adhere to the federal standard.

“…under the Stored Communications Act, a state law enforcement agency can’t rely on the federal standard if the state’s law is more protective, but that a federal agency can always rely on the federal standard,” ACLU staff attorney Nathan Wessler told Mashable. 

However, a federal law prohibiting warrantless tracking does not currently exist. As Mashable reported, however, the Department of Justice argued there is no need for a law requiring a warrant to obtain historical location data from cell phones as it falls under the “third-party” doctrine.

This principle states that information shared with a third party, such as a cellphone provider, is not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

Maine’s bill was originally vetoed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, but was overridden by the Maine legislature.


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