The line between protecting public safety and protecting privacy rights will always be difficult to draw.
James Madison recognized this when he wrote the Fourth Amendment, and Congress submitted it to the states for ratification in 1789:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,” it says.
Daily, law officers meet situations in which they must avoid “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Today’s technology has added complications. Fortunately, we have courts to provide guidance.
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Two bills in the Texas Legislature focus on the rights of people who carry cellphones.
Senate Bill 942, by Sens. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, and Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, says that before officers can use high-tech tracking devices to locate a cellphone and gather data from it, they must first show a judge that they have probable cause to connect the phone to a crime. They must obtain a search warrant.
House Bill 3165, by Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, would do the same thing.
Fort Worth police have this equipment. According to a statement released in 2012, the proposed law wouldn’t change what they do.
Unless the case is an emergency, the statement said, they get a search warrant before using the equipment.
Neither bill has been heard in committee. Both should be advanced through the legislative process.