Privacy SOS

Massachusetts: Strike while the iron is hot on privacy

Yesterday the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary met to hear a whopping 209 bills on issues ranging from the school to prison pipeline, to metadata surveillance, to transgender rights. The ACLU of Massachusetts was represented in a major way, testifying in support of three privacy bills and an immigrants rights bill, and in opposition to the Attorney General's plan to expand the state wiretap statute.

A broad coalition of activists and organizations including Digital Fourth, Kit Walsh from the Harvard Berkman Center, and Veterans for Peace joined us to deliver testimony, and activists made their presence felt by packing the room in solidarity. Big thanks to all the supporters who turned out and waited many long hours to hear our testimony. A number of elected officials also testified in support of our privacy agenda, including Senator Karen Spilka, the lead sponsor of the Electronic Privacy Act.

The privacy bills we testified in support of concerned drones, electronic snooping and free speech. The uniting theme across our testimony is quite simple, and speaks to the larger conversation our nation is having right now about surveillance in the digital age: We want the probable cause warrant standard to extend to 21st century government snooping. (You can find our testimony for those three bills here.)

That proved to be a popular message with committee members, many of whom, including Chairwoman Senator Katherine Clark, explicitly voiced agreement on that fundamental question. The gold standard of Fourth Amendment protection — the probable cause warrant — has served us well for hundreds of years, in peacetime and wartime, and we need to backstop it for the 21st century. 

That the committee was largely supportive is good news, but we can't stop the momentum now. Please do your part now by taking action here and spreading the word. And if you have the time and energy, reach out by phone or email to find out how you can get involved in organizing to pass this critical legislation. Maine has just passed a law banning warrantless cell phone tracking; there's no good reason we can't soon join our friendly neighbors to the north.

Surveillance is hot in the news and on the minds of our people, and we have a major opportunity to implement reforms that will affect generations of Massachusetts residents. Chairwoman Clark called the moment "historic." She's right. Let's seize the day and redouble our efforts. The hearing yesterday made clear that many legislators are behind us, so let's get the rest on board and make history together. 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.