Democrats, Republicans join to support bills limiting police surveillance tools -- Gazette.Net


As President Barack Obama considers appropriate limits for surveillance, a bipartisan group of Maryland lawmakers is proposing proper boundaries for drones and other monitoring tools within the state.

Two state senators — one liberal, the other conservative — have joined efforts to work on protecting citizens’ privacy by preventing law enforcement from unnecessarily using technology like drones to conduct searches.

Sens. Jamie B. Raskin and Christopher B. Shank, with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, said they will introduce a bill to regulate the use of drones by police. Their proposal is part of a four-bill package aimed at safeguarding privacy from emerging surveillance technology.

The bills would regulate police use of drones, automatic license plate readers, email surveillance and location tracking, so as to not infringe on privacy rights.

Specifically, the drone bill says that unless there were an emergency, there would be limits and regulations on aerial surveillance. It does not apply to the use of drones by private companies.

“It’s getting Orwellian out there,” Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park told reporters Tuesday morning, a reference to the extreme government control that author George Orwell described in “1984.”

Shank (R-Dist. 2) of Hagerstown called the situation a “slippery slope.”

“I am not content to sit here and allow this current diminution of our privacy rights to get to a point that one day my children or grandchildren are going to wake up and government is constantly spying on them,” he said.

Montgomery County police do not use drones.

Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said the public is not ready for drones to be used by law enforcement.

“I am aware that some other police departments are looking at their possible uses, but we are not considering them,” Manger said. “If they ever prove to have good value, and the civil-liberties issues are addressed by the courts, etc., then we might start a discussion.”

Obama is expected on Friday to issue new guidelines that would curtail government surveillance, according to The New York Times.

What the president is doing parallels efforts in Maryland, Raskin said.

Since Maryland last amended its privacy laws in 1988, Raskin said, technology has vastly outpaced the law.

He said the package of privacy bills aims to create a balance between law and technology.

“We want to make sure that law enforcement can use these new tools for appropriate purposes,” he said.

In the House, the bills are cosponsored by Dels. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington, Alfred C. Carr Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington, Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Dist. 36) of Chesapeake City and Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-Dist. 41) of Baltimore.

Maryland State Police have not taken a position on the legislation, but issued a statement saying the agency supports “the process of discussion and debate about these issues by those elected to represent our citizens in the Maryland General Assembly.”

“Maryland state troopers take an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of Maryland,” the police statement said. “The members of the Maryland State Police will comply with, support, and enforce the laws passed by the Maryland Legislature as we work each day to reduce crime and crashes and help protect our citizens from acts of terrorism.”

Staff writer St. John Barned-Smith contributed to this story.