Should the police be able to look at your cellphone’s location, your Web browsing history, your email and your Facebook account without a warrant?
State Sen. Larry George, R-Sherwood, wants to require a warrant. He is developing a bill that would require a warrant for Oregon law enforcement except in cases of consent or urgent circumstances.
The bill’s language is still being developed. George did not return a call Thursday or Friday before our deadline for more information. A state law would not control what federal agencies can do.
But George’s intent is clear. He is trying to strike a balance between protecting privacy and the ability of law enforcement to browse through electronic records.
There have been congressional proposals to do something similar. A handful of states have already implemented laws to block such warrantless searches.
Police generally need a search warrant to search a person’s home. It’s hard to argue that a similar standard should not be applied to emails, social media and other electronic records. They are a goldmine of personal information.
States within the jurisdiction of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, including Oregon, have operated under the Theofel decision for obtaining email records. Email content could only be obtained with a warrant. Other records, such as subscriber name, address, telephone number, connection records and payment information, could be obtained through a subpoena.
Some, including Oregon’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that Oregon’s constitution is already as restrictive as George’s proposed bill. The advantage perhaps would be that his bill would clarify Oregon law in an area ruled by a lack of clarity.
But what’s worrying about the bill is that there may be an attempt to hustle it through the Legislature’s short session this year. Will legislators really have sufficient time to vet it thoroughly?
Nobody wants Oregon to become a surveillance state in which every move and every email is logged and scrutinized by the police. Privacy must be respected, but we also need law enforcement to be able to protect lives.