Thanks to the advocacy of Rhode Island Senator Donna Nesselbush, Representative Edith Ajello and other supporters of privacy legislation, Rhode Island law now provides residents privacy protections needed to address 21st century mobile communication.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo recently signed into law privacy legislation sponsored by Sen. Nesselbush and State Representative Edith Ajello. The legislation protects cell phone users against having potentially sensitive data regarding their current and prior whereabouts gathered without their knowledge or consent by law enforcement officials, according to a report on Rhode Island’s new privacy law in the State Scoop.
Senator Nesselbush, a founding partner of Marasco & Nesselbush, LLP, was instrumental in helping to get the legislation passed requiring law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before tracking the whereabouts of everyday citizens, except in emergency situations. Rhode Island privacy laws had been lagging in regard to changes in mobile communication technology.
“We wanted to protect the public’s right to privacy while allowing law enforcement to use cell phone track data, upon obtaining a warrant,” Sen. Nesselbush said in a press release. “Requiring a warrant won’t make it unreasonably difficult for police to do their job. This bill just applies the standard that is used for most other searches to location data. It’s essentially updating search warrant law for the information age.”
How the New Privacy Laws Protect Your Rights
In a Providence Journal editorial on the Rhode Island privacy law, Senator Nesselbush and Representative Ajello explained how cell phone towers register pings from users approximately every seven seconds. These pings, which are collected and recorded by cell phone companies across the country, provide identifying location information on all users.
In the course of investigations, law enforcement routinely request cellphone tower data dumps, giving them access to location information about every user that has passed through the area.
How big of an issue are these records?
According to the Providence Journal editorial, a 2013 federal inquiry determined the following:
- Law enforcement requests for cell phone tower records have more than doubled over the last five years.
- Cell phone service provider Verizon reported as many as 30,000 requests for cell phone location information and more than 2,000 requests for tower dumps the year the inquiry was conducted;
- Rival provider AT&T reported receiving as many as 100,000 location information and history requests during 2013.
These records have previously been obtained without the user’s knowledge or consent, and without any regulations in place requiring officials to notify users of the data collected.
Details of the New Rhode Island Privacy Law
The new law requires that:
- Law enforcement agencies in Rhode Island would need to obtain a search warrant before accessing location information on individuals through cell phone towers;
- The cell phone owner must be notified within five days and informed of the information collected if a search warrant is obtained; and
- Law enforcement agencies would have up to 90 days to disclose any data collected in cases where the release of information would jeopardize an ongoing investigation.
One area the new law does not affect is situations involving injured victims and life threatening situations. In emergency situations, police and EMS are still permitted to use cell phone tower data to locate and ensure victims receive the emergency help they need.
Now that the Rhode Island privacy law has passed, our state joins 11 others in bringing privacy protection rights into the 21st century.
At Marasco & Nesselbush Law Offices, we are proud of the efforts made by Rhode Island State Senator Donna Nesselbush to protect the rights of the citizens of our state.
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As one of New England’s most trusted Personal Injury and Social Security Disability law firms, Marasco & Nesselbush provides the experienced and aggressive legal representation you need to ensure your rights are protected. Our attorneys apply hard work, intelligence, attention to detail and perseverance to achieve outstanding results for our clients. We have offices in the Providence, Warwick, Woonsocket, and Wakefield areas of Rhode Island as well as offices in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Use our online contact form to schedule a free initial consultation.