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Today: tell Mass. Senators to oppose giving prosecutors new surveillance powers

The Massachusetts Senate is working on an omnibus criminal justice reform package.  Two amendments (#24 and #87) would give prosecutors unprecedented new powers to wiretap phone calls, emails, instant messaging services, and potentially even internet connected devices like personal assistants (think Amazon’s ‘Echo’) and televisions.

The votes are scheduled for this Thursday, so now is the time to tell our State Senators to oppose these amendments.  Calls are best, but emails help too, if there are enough of them.

The Massachusetts’ ACLU’s Privacy SOS blog reported that the wiretap amendments up for a vote this Thursday would do the following:

  • Eradicate the organized crime requirement, enabling prosecutors to use wiretaps in a wide-range of criminal investigations, including petty drug distribution and even solicitation to distribute drugs. That means even drug users could be wiretapped should one of these amendments become law.
  • Grant prosecutors the power to coerce drug users into wearing wires to document drug deals, putting them at risk of extreme violence. Drug users and others picked up on lower-level offenses across the country have been murdered because of these operations.
  • Enable prosecutors to demand technology companies provide “technical assistance” to facilitate wiretapping, plunging Massachusetts into a highly controversial debate about the ability of government to force companies to compromise the security of their own products. We can’t be sure how courts will interpret this language, but the prosecutors may view it expansively, meaning District Attorneys could try to force companies to turn their products into bugs for the government. Think Amazon ‘Echo,’ internet connected TVs with microphones and cameras, and internet connected home security systems.
  • Eliminate the existing jurisdictional requirement, enabling prosecutors to wiretap people outside the state of Massachusetts—potentially anywhere in the world.
  • Enable law enforcement to hand off wiretapping operations to private corporations. Under current law, only government employees working for law enforcement agencies may conduct authorized wiretaps.

Prosecutors in Massachusetts have greater access to sensitive information about us than ever before, often without a warrant, whether it is your Twitter direct messages or meta data such as who you call, how long you talk, and where your phone is, and thus potentially where you are at any moment of the day.

This Thursday, the Senate votes on these amendments, so now is the time to tell your State Senator you to oppose them. Please look up their phone number and call them. If you cannot, email them. Thanks!

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