Missouri lawmakers respond to spying concerns
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A proposal to prevent police from listening to your phone conversations and reading your emails without probable cause is gaining traction in the Missouri legislature. Missouri Senator Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, introduced SBJ 27 earlier this session. Both the House and Senate have recommended the resolution pass and if it does, Missouri voters would decide in November whether to amend the state Constitution to ban warrantless electronic surveillance.
“It’s a great idea to protect people’s privacy,” said former FBI agent Jeff Lanza. “So many people don’t realize how many people are looking at our information.”
Lanza says since 9/11, federal officials with the National Security Administration have been collecting every phone call made and ever email sent from everyone. They store this information in massive databases and access only in cases involving national security. There is no federal law prohibiting federal investigators from doing this.
Lanza said investigators will monitor emails and phone calls “for intelligence gathering purposes. To connect the dots in a criminal investigation or a federal investigation involving counter terrorism. This information might come in handy.”
If Missouri voters approve this new measure, police would need to show probable cause and obtain a warrant before they could spy on you. If they didn’t, the information they gathered could not be used against you in a court of law. But this only applies to state courts. This information could be used against you in a federal prosecution.
“To really address this issue, you have to address it at the federal level,” said Lanza, “and the federal government has to take a stance on what can and can’t be done by agencies like the NSA. If you do it at the state levels, it really doesn’t matter because federal law rules supreme. Right now it’s legal to gather that information for the purposes they are using it for.”
So why amend the Missouri Constitution if it won’t stop investigators from spying on you?
“A step to put it in the Constitution is a step that lawmakers maybe wanted to do,” Lanza explained. “They said, hey, we’re thinking about this and we respect people’s privacy.”