Governor Mike Pence stepped up to protect civil liberties last week by signing a law prohibiting law enforcement from electronically spying on Hoosiers. At a time when we are increasingly concerned about the federal government’s wide net in collecting electronic information on Americans, this is a welcome step to limit the reach of government.
The Fourth Amendment makes it illegal for government to conduct an unreasonable search of persons, houses, papers, and effects, and requires that warrants be based on probable cause. At the time, the men who wrote the Bill of Rights could not have conceived of a computer, much less a handheld computer as powerful as a smartphone. They could not have conceived of a telephone, for that matter.
It should be obvious, though, that the founding fathers would place smartphones, laptops and desktop computers in the same category as papers and effects. (E-mail hosted on a remote server, such as Gmail, would also come under that umbrella.) After all, our mobile devices carry a great deal of private and personal information, as well as sensitive financial information and family photographs. One of the things that made the colonists so angry with the British Empire was the practice of using general warrants, which is strikingly similar to government electronic surveillance today.
This legislation will not protect us from federal abuses, but it does provide another layer of protection and privacy against rogue law enforcement agents at the state and local level. But the sad thing is that in a sane world this law is redundant and unnecessary. The Constitution itself provides more than enough protection from wireless spying on people, whether by local, state or federal officials.
While Pence does deserve praise for this legislation (and it is a nice addition to his resume should he run for President in 2016 or 2020) it is worrisome that legislation was needed at all to protect our basic Constitutional rights.