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Giving police faster information – great. But at what cost?

Submitted by on Wednesday, 3 February 2010 No Comment

I have absolutely no problem with the police knowing anything my Internet Service Provider knows about me – as long as they use a proper search warrant to obtain the information.

Anyone’s a fool to think that stuff’s private anyway, and poking into emails is really no different than the police obtaining telephone records via search warrant. Usually by search warrant, that is. Unless they can talk the ISP into skipping that step.

I don’t even have a problem with law enforcement wanting a system by which they can file requests for information electronically – cutting down on the paperwork and speeding up the transaction makes sense and should be imminently do-able in the 21st Century.

Except here’s the problem: Courts aren’t exactly the most technologically advanced institutions on the planet. I imagine that many would be unwilling to email a search warrant to an ISP, let alone file one electronically.

Maybe that doesn’t even matter, and that’s where the idea starts to reek. According to some excellent reporting by CNet, a proposed new system would directly link police and ISP computers. While I’m sure that no one sworn to uphold the law would access information without having a proper search warrant …

Wait. Strike that. Because that’s exactly what the FBI has been doing with phone records.

Holy probable cause, Batman – and that’s if we as a nation still recall the concept of probable cause and haven’t completely devolved to a “shoot first and ask questions later” mentality.

In case you’ve forgotten all about it, here’s this little description, courtesy of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In a way, it boggles the mind that police agencies who frequently plead that they’re too technologically crippled to provide the media and the public with electronic access to information on crimes would even be interested in having direct access to ISP data.

On the off chance that police are beginning to overcome their technophobia enough to be able to navigate such a system, though, it should not be put in place without safe guards against fishing expeditions.

Safe guards such as our old friend probable cause.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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