Protecting Our Privacy
In the 21st century, the technology in our lives literally changes every day. Data that used to take rooms full of file cabinets to store can now be carried around on an ultra slim laptop or pulled down from the cloud on your smartphone.
This new technology has made extraordinary improvements in our lives and economy, but it also poses very real threats to our privacy and our constitutional rights.
Thankfully, even though we live in a time of extraordinary change, the safeguards in the Bill of Rights are constant. The 4th Amendment to our US Constitution protects us against unlawful searches and seizures by the government. And Article 1, Section 9 of the Oregon Constitution does the same thing.
But while technology keeps leaping forward, our laws are lagging behind in protecting Oregonians.
Privacy is an issue of personal freedom, not a partisan one. That’s why my Democratic colleague Senator Chip Shields and I have been reaching across the aisle to find common ground with Republicans in the Legislature on actions we can take together to protect our individual freedoms.
I wanted to update you on a number of issues we are considering and ask for your views about the challenges you face protecting your right to privacy.
Here are a few of the key privacy issues our committee is working on:
1. Transparency in Government Surveillance
We have a right to understand what technologies government is using to monitor, observe or analyze the behavior or activity of Oregonians. And we have the right to know what policies govern the use of those technologies. We are considering new laws to promote transparency in government surveillance activities and ascertain what measures agencies are taking to protect privacy.
2. Protect Private Electronic Communication Records
Our electronic communication shouldn’t be treated differently than our postal mail or written notes when it comes to monitoring by the government. And yet outdated laws allow that to happen with law enforcement being able to take advantage of loopholes in our laws to collect digital data and records without having to go before a court for permission. We are considering updates to Oregon privacy laws to ensure online and digital activity receives the same protection our snail mail does.
3. Protect Cell Phone Location Tracking Records
GPS records and cell phone location records give us a digital footprint that can allow us to be tracked in almost every moment of our day. This data can reveal highly personal, and even intimate, details of an individual’s life. We are looking at an update to Oregon law that would require a warrant for probable cause (except in an emergency) before the government could obtain cell phone location records.
4. Protect Smartphone Privacy
It used to be that police had to get a warrant and conduct extensive investigations before they could track a person’s communications, movements and private life after an arrest. Today, law enforcement can strip a smartphone of all its data for review during an arrest encounter. This can amount to a violation of constitutional rights and an extreme invasion of privacy. We are considering new updates to Oregon laws that would protect smartphone privacy and require a warrant to search a cell phone.
5. Establish Guidelines for Automatic License Plate Readers
Today in Oregon, law enforcement agencies can deploy automatic license plate readers on our roads and retain location information and a photograph of every vehicle that passes each camera. This stored data can reveal the private movements of thousands of Oregonians who have committed no crime. We are considering new laws to put long overdue statewide guidelines in place for the use of automatic license plate readers and safeguards against the retention of private personal data and unnecessary sharing of these records between governments and private companies.
At least 16 other states have either passed or are currently considering legislation to address the collection, aggregation and dissemination of information on ordinary citizens. Oregon is falling behind in protecting our privacy right now and we need to catch up.
It may be 225 years old, but the Constitution still guarantees our basic right to privacy even from the newest technological advances.
We can work together to make sure Oregon leads the nation in protecting those rights.
Representative Jennifer Williamson