Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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December 30, 2013

State's phone spying raises privacy issues

Explain how this technology protects people

Secrecy is a necessary and desirable component of fighting crime. Staying one step ahead of criminals and terrorists allows us to go about our daily lives with little worry. For that, we are immeasurably grateful to the police agencies on the front lines.

But we find it troubling that the latest high tech device deployed for keeping us safe from criminals and terrorists can also pose a threat to the privacy of every Hoosier. More troubling is the lack of basic information about how data collected is managed.

An Indianapolis Star report uncovered that the Indiana State Police spent $373,995 this year for a “Stingray” device that allows police to track the movements of nearly anyone within a radius of 1 mile with a cellphone. It also captures the telephone numbers of incoming and outgoing calls and text messages within that radius.

Beyond that, public officials refuse to reveal what they do with the data, how it’s stored, who can access it, or whether it is ever destroyed. Officials also refuse to reveal whether a court order or a search warrant is needed to deploy the device.

Things don’t get much more Orwellian than that.

Gov. Mike Pence came out publicly in support of the state police collecting cellphone data, within limits. He, too, sidestepped the issue of court orders and search warrants but said judicial review is a must.

Some Indiana lawmakers are not convinced the device is so benign. At least three state senators say they will introduce bills to require police to obtain a warrant before collecting data.

There’s no question that tracking people by cellphone and collecting cellphone data can be a powerful crime-fighting tool. But we fail to see why electronic snooping should be exempt from judicial oversight. Of course, it might be under a judicial watchdog but even that is secret information. We fail to see how data is stored, who can access it or who owns it is a state secret. This vacuum of information ought to concern all Hoosiers. Perhaps if the state police were forthcoming with basic information, it might allay some concerns.

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