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Bill requiring court order for cellphone tracking clears Minn. House 120-0

Posted by: Abby Simons under Minnesota legislature Updated: May 2, 2014 - 12:14 PM

A bill requiring law enforcement to get a probable cause court order before using controversial cell phone tracking device unanimously cleared the Minnesota House of Representatives 120-0  Friday.

The measure authored by Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, now heads for a conference committee to determine its final language. Its companion bill authored by Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, cleared the Senate 56-1 last week. Both bills require police to show probable cause and get a judge’s signoff before deploying the devices, which are used by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. Under law enforcement’s urging, the legislation was stripped of all references to “search warrant,” and replaced with “court order” and “tracking warrant” in a move that troubled civil liberties advocates who say the new language could render the laws toothless.

Atkins maintained that despite the name change, the higher threshold is a big step in protecting citizens’ privacy in the wake of revelations that some Minnesota law enforcement agencies use the “cellular exploitation devices,” known by their trade names as the Kingfish and Stingray, which mimic local phone towers to capture the location of cellphones — and the suspects who carry them.

Atkins’ bill also limits law enforcement’s use of the device for 60 days per case, with extensions not to exceed another 60 days. It also requires law enforcement to notify subjects who were tracked within 90 days after the court order is unsealed.  The bill also requires the state Court Administrator to share all orders authorizing cell phone data collection with the Legislature every two years.

“Nearly every Minnesotan carries some mobile device with them every day and we need to make sure that the location data of innocent people is not subject to unreasonable or unchecked searches by government,” Atkins said. “Times have changed and we use our mobile devices for location services all the time. This bill is a step in ensuring our laws catch up with the times.”

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