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Bipartisan group of Md. lawmakers seeks limits on drones, other law-enforcement surveillance

An aerial drone with a high-quality video camera. (AP Photo/The Berkshire Eagle, Ben Garver)

A bipartisan group of Maryland lawmakers on Tuesday announced a package of legislation intended to put limits on law enforcement’s use of technology to monitor the e-mail of citizens and track their movements.

The bills would require police to get permission from a judge before intercepting online communications and establish other parameters for use of location tracking on mobile phones, surveillance by drones and storage of license plate numbers by automatic recorders. They were announced nearly a week into the 90-day legislative session.

The lawmakers, who participated in a morning news conference, said that Maryland has not addressed privacy issues in a meaningful way since 1988.

“The technology has gotten way out in front of the law,” said Sen. Jaime Raskin (D-Montgomery), one of four Democrats and two Republicans who attended the news conference organized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. “We need to re-establish the balance as it pertains to these technologies.”

The bills will contain exceptions for emergency situations, the lawmakers said.

Nothing, for example, would prevent police from providing a robust response to a Boston Marathon-style bombing or finding a missing child, said Sen. Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington).

Shank said he expects police to have some concerns with the measures, but said lawmakers are willing to work with them on those that are “legitimate.”

“By no means does this sacrifice the ability of law enforcement do its job,” Shank said.

Greg Shipley, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police, said his agency has no position yet on the legislation.

“These are important issues, and we support the process of discussion and debate about these issues by those elected to represent our citizens in the Maryland General Assembly,” Shipley said.

The bills would not apply to federal law-enforcement agencies and others outside the state’s jurisdiction.

The lawmakers also stressed that they are not opposed to technological advances but said they want to see sensible limits.

“Drones shouldn’t be flying over our homes, spying on us in our backyards,” said Del. Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery).

Other lawmakers who participated and will be sponsoring bills during the 90-day session include Del. Alfred C. Carr Jr. (D-Montgomery), Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore), and Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Cecil).

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.



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