Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Vermont Passes Sweeping New Privacy Laws Designed To Thwart Warrantless Surveillance

Vermont Passes Sweeping New Privacy Laws Designed To Thwart Warrantless Surveillance
By Kurtis Bright

Green Mountain State Puts Feds, Local Cops On Notice: No Surveillance Without a Warrant

Lots of good things seem to start in Vermont.

You’ve got your Ben and Jerry of course. Then you’ve got Bernie--Sanders that is. And no matter where you reside on the political spectrum you have to admit that hearing a sitting senator calling out the incestuous, money-grubbing, one-percent-take-all corruption of our system as it is currently run was refreshing, if ultimately doomed by the machinations of those same fixers.

And don’t forget the genetically modified food labeling law Vermont passed, which sent big agri-business and food manufacturers into a tizzy early last year. That too was ultimately thwarted by the aforementioned corrupt pay-for-play federal government, deeply ensconced in the pockets of big agriculture. But at the very least the hard work in Vermont put the issue of GMOs and the dangerous pesticides they are doused with on the radar for a whole lot of people who may not have previously considered the issue.

Now a trio Vermont of state senators have hit a home run for state residents there in terms of privacy and countering police overreach.

Vermont Senators Tim Ashe, Joe Benning and Dick Sears have created legislation in that is being called Senate Bill 155, a law that would limit the types and scope of warrantless surveillance police are permitted to conduct. It is designed to help protect electronic privacy, and it might even throw a monkey wrench into a number of sketchy Federal surveillance programs that rely on the passive compliance and cooperation of local and state law enforcement.

At issue is what is known as the Stingray device, a new favorite surveillance tool of cops everywhere. This machinery/program is essentially a van that is equipped to spoof nearby cell phone towers and collect all data that passes through them in a given neighborhood. It is the undiscriminating backhoe of data collection, scooping up everything that passes through a nearby cell phone tower, with tremendous implications for privacy. Grabbing thousands of text messages and phone conversations sent by people who are not suspected of any crime--messages that are supposed to be protected by privacy laws--is troubling to say the least.

The new Vermont legislation, signed into law in June last year has not only shaken up this law enforcement free-for-all in Vermont by banning warrantless use of stingray devices to track the location of phones and sweep up electronic communications--it also restricts the ways police and use drones for surveillance. Additionally it forbids law enforcement officers from obtaining electronic data from service providers without a warrant or a judicially issued subpoena.

Ending the days of the New Wild West of law enforcement data collection for Vermont residents is a great first step, and people across the country are taking notice.

So here’s hoping the media also notices this grand rebellion on a state level from the new normal in which we are expected to flaccidly give up our rights in exchange for dubious alleged protections.

The nation and the world could do worse than follow the Green Mountain State’s example on any number of things, it seems.

Pass the ice cream and let’s see how this plays out.

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