The Texas Senate has passed, what might be considered by some, a controversial new bill that expands law enforcement officers’ ability to carry out wiretaps.
The new wiretapping bill now allows cell phone tapping. It also includes and number crimes where wiretapping will now be allowed such as “kidnapping, human trafficking and money laundering.”
Up until this point the only crimes that law enforcement officials could legally use a wiretap for in Texas, were cases in involving drugs, murder or child porn. It will now be possible to wiretap the cell phones of suspects wherever they are it will no longer mean that only a specific location, such as the suspect’s home, can be monitored.
The new bill falls under the possibilities allowed by the Homeland Security bill. Besides allowing law enforcement officials to wiretap cell phones the bill also enforces new restrictions on the sale and purchase of ready to go phones, the type of phone that allows the user to purchase credit instead of a monthly contract.
The new restrictions mean a customer will no longer be able to purchase a prepaid phone anonymously. They will now have to provide the store with a number of details including a photo ID, full name and address, birth date and possibly even their Social Security number. It will also no longer be possible to buy a large number of prepaid cell phones at once. The maximum purchase number has been set to five phones per customer at the same time.
The expanded Texas security bill also went as far as including tollbooth CCTV footage. The new bill allows law enforcement officials to prosecute a crime using the footage as evidence.
The senator responsible for creating the new cell phone wiretapping bill is Sen. John Carona. Sen. Carona feels that the new bill will make it easier for police to deal with crimes and terrorism within Texas.
However, not everyone feels comfortable with the cell phone wiretapping bill. Many feel that it is pushing the acceptable boundaries of homeland security over the edge. A Texas democratic senator, Sen. Royce, has been expressing concerns about the bill’s infringement on civil rights. This is because by wiretapping the cell phone of suspect also listens in on the conversations of those not involved, people such as the suspects family members or friends.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas has expressed its concern with the bill. A representative from the group, Rebecca Bernhardt, said, “These aren’t homeland security related crimes. I think when we talk about homeland security it’s easy to broaden it to include life, the universe and everything. That does the public a disservice. Bernhardt also pointed out that it would not be difficult for a cell phone buyer to provide false information, as there are no measures being put in place to confirm it. She went on to say, “It’s an infringement on people’s privacy without a meaningful public safety payoff.”
The new security bill was passed unanimously in the Texas upper house. It is currently waiting a decision by the Texas House of Representatives.
The new security bill is bound to spark concern amongst Texas citizens over their privacy rights. Citizen in other states also may become concerned as their states may try to enforce a similar bill.