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More States Loosening Wiretap Restrictions

By Dick Kelsey, Newsbytes

April 17, 2002

Proposed changes to state wiretap laws triggered by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 would give states added surveillance power that could erode civil liberties, said a review of state-level legislation released today. The review, conducted by a Washington-based non-profit that tracks legal and constitutional issues, examined how states approve and implement wiretaps. The Constitution Project seeks to determine whether laws compromise individual liberties.

Many states have proposed that law officers have more leeway to tap criminal suspects' telephones or intercept electronic communications, be given enhanced subpoena power, and receive the authority to conduct "roving" statewide wiretaps, the group said.

As of April 8, wiretap law legislation was pending in 22 states and bills had been passed in 3 states, while no legislative action was pending in 25 states and the District of Columbia, according to the review, which is part of the Constitution Project Liberty and Security Initiative.

"We must make sure that the benefits of these wiretaps are accompanied by continuing protection of civil liberties," said Peter Swire, a professor at Ohio State University law school and initiative adviser.

More than half of the nation's wiretaps are conducted at the state level, said Swire, who served as chief privacy officer for the Clinton administration.

While the federal government has oversight regarding such matters in congressional committee hearings, states have little or none, initiative director, Joseph Onek, told Newsbytes.

"When you have 50 state governments doing the same thing without some capabilities for oversight, that's what concerns us," Onek said.

Arizona lawmakers, for example, may do away with the requirement that a wiretap application specify the crime for which the surveillance is sought, Onek said.

Constitution Project -

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15:34 CST
Reposted 17:19 CST


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