Privacy Advisor

Budget May Stop Maine Bill Requiring Warrant for Geodata

June 5, 2013

By Sam Pfeifle
Publications Director

Maine’s House and Senate have both essentially passed LD 415, An Act To Require a Warrant To Obtain the Location Information of a Cell Phone or Other Electronic Device. LD 415 would do basically what its title says, with some 90-day delay allowances at the discretion of a judge. However, the bill does not yet sit on the governor’s desk awaiting signature. Because the bill has been assigned a fiscal note of roughly $234,000 over the next two years, it now sits with the Appropriations Committee, which must decide whether there is funding in the budget to cover the expense.

What about obtaining a warrant before getting data could possibly cost $234,000?

The Maine Attorney General’s Office has made the argument that GPS location information as described in the bill is used widely in helping to solve crimes, said State Sen. Dick Woodbury, a co-sponsor of the bill and this reporter’s representative. “So,” said Woodbury, “if the officers are now going to have to go through the more labor-intensive process of getting warrants, that takes somebody’s time.”

But that’s not where the expense comes from. The expense is in the AG’s office, which says it will need two “Research Assistant positions, and related costs to manage the notification provisions” of the bill. If any government entity obtains location information, even with warrant, it must notify the owner of the data within three days.

Privacy advocates have responded with variations of, “two full-time positions to manage that?”

“I think those supporting the bill thought the estimate seemed inflated,” Woodbury said, “but it was suggested that, in fact, this information is being used a lot more extensively than we realized at the outset.”

The Appropriations Committee now has three options. It can either fund the bill— which is harder than you might think if you’re not from Maine, where there have recently been extensive cuts to education and social services to close budget gaps—or it can amend the bill in some way so as to get rid of the financial burden. Or, finally, “given that this is a bill that is pretty controversial,” said Woodbury, “and has some pretty influential and persuasive advocates on both sides, the committee may just think we should hold off on this, and it could not pass.”

Woodbury didn’t want to predict which way the committee would go.

However, he does feel the bill is needed. “I think with more and more information about our personal lives being collected and out there,” he said, “it should be pretty carefully controlled in a way that we just haven’t had to think about with our laws in the past. So this seemed to respond appropriately to the advances to the technical capabilities in this realm.”

Read More By Sam Pfeifle:
How To Do Social Media in Healthcare with Privacy in Mind
Stoddart: PIPEDA Needs Reform To Bring Enforcement Powers
What Went Wrong at Bloomberg, and Where Do They Go Now?
The Impact of SP 800-53: Putting Privacy and Security Side-By-Side