Politics Blog

Morris bill would curb 'extraordinary' surveillance

Today Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, filed House Bill 2179, "an act relating to technology-enhanced government surveillance."

Morris was the only sponsor of the bill, which was "pre-filed," having been introduced before the state Legislature convenes on Monday, Jan. 13.

Morris represents the 40th Legislative District, which includes south Bellingham and southwest Whatcom County.

The Democrat had an invasive-technology bill in mind when I sat down with him for a casual between-session conversation in August. Given the advancements in drone and camera technology, he said, it is time to beef up Washington's privacy protections.

The bill would be similar to  existing law protecting people from having their enhanced drivers licenses scanned by those who would seek their personal information or track them.

In a nutshell, the bill says that state and local governments can't use drones or other "extraordinary sensing devices" from an "extraordinary vantage point" -- which could be from the air, or a drone-fly on your wall -- to observe a person on their private property without the subject's or a judge's permission. The judge would need probable cause to allow surveillance; it would be like law enforcement getting a search warrant.

In his bill preamble, Morris says, "Surveillance conducted remotely and observing activities that were previously not viewable by the naked eye is rapidly increasing. As a consequence, conduct that was formerly considered private may be at risk of losing legal protection from government intrusion -- for example, satellites equipped with high resolution cameras can peer into our backyards and our skylights, or read teh book we are reading on a park bench."