Feb 042011
 February 4, 2011  Posted by  Laws, Surveillance

Wendy Kaminer comments that we all need to be more concerned about protecting our privacy from state or government surveillance.  A bill introduced in the Massachusetts legislature offers an opportunity for Massachusetts residents to push back against increasing surveillance and fusion centers:

Massachusetts has a chance to take the lead in protecting individual privacy and First Amendment rights. A Privacy and Personal Data Protection Act aimed at limiting the reach and secrecy of fusion centers has recently been introduced in the state legislature. It would prohibit data collection involving someone’s political or religious views, associations or activities absent reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, and it would afford people limited rights to access the information stored about them. Federal agents could still exempt information from state privacy requirements by labeling it classified, and whatever data Massachusetts might be prohibited from collecting could be collected by other states or by the federal government (though perhaps not accessed by Massachusetts).

But if the individual rights protected by this bill would be limited, as a practical matter, efforts to pass it could raise awareness of fusion center abuses; and passage of the bill could have significant symbolic value. Fusion centers are part of a national surveillance regime that individual states lack power to restrain and federal authorities lack will to dismantle. We can only hope that the people cease accommodating, much less celebrating, the panopticon and begin to rebel against it.

Read her entire commentary in The Atlantic.

The ACLU has produced a fact sheet about the bill, available on their site. The bills are SD 1449 and HD 1539 in the Massachusetts Senate and House, respectively.

  2 Responses to “The Personal Data Protection Act: Everyone Has Something to Hide”

  1. Just a note that federal law already prevents federal agencies from maintaining records about First Amendment activities with some limited exceptions.

    5 USC 552a(e)(7):

    [A federal agency shall] “maintain no record describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment unless expressly authorized by statute or by the individual about whom the record is maintained or unless pertinent to and within the scope of an authorized law enforcement activity”

    That’s been the law since 1975 so it’s not exactly radical. Sound like the MA bill, which I haven’t read, is a bit more limiting.

  2. Thanks, Bob. So far I’ve had no luck finding the language of the bill on Massachusett’s legislative site. My search skills are failing me. If anyone has a link to the actual bill, please post it.

    But yes, it sounds like its intention is to prevent the kind of situation we saw recently in Pennsylvania where the state Homeland Security and a contractor were surveilling and compiling information on peaceful environmental activists.

    As to the federal law, I think we’ve all seen how often that’s been ignored or abused. Having a state-level law that might prevent some data from getting into a database that other states and the feds can access might be a small step in the right direction, but at least it’s a step.

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