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Sat Jun 11, 2016, 06:32 AM


Sweeping VT privacy law will hinder several federal surveillance programs

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has signed a sweeping bill that establishes robust privacy protections in the state into law. It not only limits warrantless surveillance and helps ensure electronic privacy in Vermont, it will also hinder several federal surveillance programs that rely on cooperation and data from state and local law enforcement.

The new law bans warrantless use of stingray devices to track the location of phones and sweep up electronic communications, restricts the use of drones for surveillance by police, and generally prohibits law enforcement officers from obtaining electronic data from service providers without a warrant or a judicially issued subpoena.

Sen. Tim Ashe, Sen. Joe Benning and Sen. Dick Sears prefiled Senate Bill 155 (S.155) in December. As filed, the legislation addressed the use of drones by Vermont law enforcement, and placed some additional limits on storage and sharing of data collected by ALPRs. An amendment in a Senate committee added provisions to limit warrantless collection of electronic data. Amendments in the House banned the warrantless use of stingray devices and ultimately put off significant changes to current ALPR law.

Gov. Shumlin signed S.155 into law on June 6. It will go into effect in stages. Extension of the current ALPR statue went into effect immediately, along with study requirements. Minor changes to current ALPR law will go into effect July 1. Sections relating to drones, stingrays and warrantless data collection become effective Oct. 1.


The new law virtually bans the use of cell site simulators, known as “stingrays.” These devices essentially spoof cell phone towers, tricking any device within range into connecting to the stingray instead of the tower, allowing law enforcement to sweep up communications content, as well as locate and track the person in possession of a specific phone or other electronic device. Under the new statute, law enforcement can only use stingrays to track a fugitive with a warrant.



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