Privacy SOS

Police abuse yet another reason why we need electronic privacy law reform

One of the reasons civil libertarians want to make sure that law enforcement and state security agencies have sufficient external oversight is because security employees are human beings. They are therefore are flawed and make mistakes.

Sometimes their actions are even downright abusive.

A story in today's Courthouse News helpfully illustrates that not all police officers can be trusted to act responsibly on the job:

Telling her not to wake up her parents, a sheriff's deputy followed a teen-ager into her bedroom and made her change her clothes while he photographed her, the girl claims in court.
 
Jane Doe's parents Tabetha and Ricky O'Connor sued Sumner County, Tenn., and its Deputy Sheriff Christopher Cunningham, in Federal Court.
 
The complaint cites a dozen disciplinary actions against Cunningham, allegedly culminating with his firing after the incidents described in the complaint.
 
The parents claim that Cunningham stopped Jane, her boyfriend and her brother on the street at 3 a.m. and searched them, then took them back to their house.
 
The family claims that the kids, who had done nothing wrong, were intimidated by Cunningham's display of authority, and obeyed his orders.
Would you trust that officer with his hands on biometric IDs on your entire family, access to databases containing information about you and everyone you know, or warrantless insight into your communications and travel patterns? The officer was ultimately fired, but "dozens of complaints" were lodged before that happened. What kind of secret snooping could he have done while still on the job?
 
Our system of checks and balances was established for good reason. We can't go on allowing state security or local law enforcement agencies access to our private lives without probable cause to believe we are engaged in crimes, or the warrants to prove it.
 
Not all cops are abusive, and some (perhaps rare) people won't abuse power even if they are left in the shadows to enact it. But we need to bring the Bill of Rights into the digital age to ensure that officers who do take liberties are prevented from violating our rights before the damage is done.
 
At present, police and prosecutors in Massachusetts can file simple subpoenas with communications and internet service providers, netting all kinds of private information about where you go, who you communicate with, and more. We simply cannot trust that this incredibly invasive power won't be abused absent proper judicial oversight.
 
You may trust the police to act in your best interest, but officers are just human beings — flawed and prone to making mistakes just like the rest of us. Our courts exist for a reason; let's use them.
 
Read the full story on the allegedly creepy deputy here. If you live in Massachusetts, take action to ensure we bring some judicial oversight over police surveillance.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.