In discussions about the use of electronic surveillance without search warrants, Indiana lawmakers struck a well of concerns over balancing personal privacy rights with public safety amid rapidly advancing technology.
"Quite frankly, I think we're in uncharted territory," said Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, chairman of the state House Courts and Criminal Code Committee.
The committee had its initial hearing Wednesday for a bill aimed at restricting law enforcement's use of drones, unmanned cameras, tracking devices and electronic surveillance equipment on private property.
House Bill 1009, authored by Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, would require search warrants for electronic surveillance or data-collecting except for special circumstances, emergency situations or likely terrorist attacks.
It's an issue brought to the forefront by concerns nationally with the National Security Agency's controversial warrantless cellphone spying and locally with the Indiana State Police's silence about how it uses a cellphone data-gathering device called a "Stingray."
The device can track movements of nearby cellphone users and record numbers from calls or text messages.
The technology is often activated through a simple court order, when law enforcement shows data collection will aid an investigation.
But Koch's bill would mandate obtaining a search warrant in most cases, which makes agencies prove a stricter burden of "probable cause" -- belief that a crime has occurred.
Koch said he hoped the bill wouldn't infringe on police activity but "give some guidance to law enforcement, because this area is so murky at this time."
The Indiana State Police does not comment on pending legislation, said spokesman David Bursten.
Lawmakers on the House committee said they wanted law enforcement input on how to craft legislation that wouldn't hobble operations.
As they tried to fine-tune the scope of the bill, they questioned whether it would unintentionally restrict red-light cameras, security or surveillance cameras like the ones used Downtown.
They also wondered how to draw lines to protect a tenant from having a landlord plant a hidden camera but not infringe on a landlord monitoring property.
And Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, asked whether the General Assembly should step into the issue at all: "Why are we doing this? Why can't we leave this to the courts?"
Like this story? If so, subscribe to Government Technology's daily newsletter.
He later added: "I'm cautious and anxious to protect people's rights, but I'm not sure we can draft a bill to cover every circumstance."
Other elements of the drafted legislation would make government agencies pay to obtain data from providers and notify users that they have collected electronic information.
A subcommittee will continue working on the bill.
Another anti-surveillance bill (SB 231), introduced by Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, would impose felony penalties for illegal searches and seizures of electronic devices without court-ordered warrants.
"We cannot allow governments to ride roughshod over the privacy rights of individuals," Delph said Wednesday. "There needs to be a check on that."
But he added, "The idea isn't to take away the capability of an agency to take out threats and act on due process. I want to shift the burden back to governments to prove why they need the surveillance."
In July, Maine became the second state to require that police obtain a warrant for location data, Delph said. Montana was the first state.
Barb Berggoetz contributed to this story.
(c)2014 The Indianapolis Star