A Senate panel voted late Monday to block state and local police from using information that federal agents obtained without warrants despite claims it could lead to Arizonans dying in terrorist attacks.
The legislation approved by the Senate Committee on Government and Environment would bar public employees and departments from helping federal agencies collect electronic data from Arizonans unless the feds first got a search warrant “that particularly describes the person, place and thing to be searched or seized.” Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, said she does not want the state involved in helping the National Security Agency with what she believes is its unconstitutional gathering of “metadata,” things like records of who calls and emails who.
But SB 1156 also would make it illegal for police or prosecutors to use any information in any criminal probe that was provided by a federal agency which got the information without a warrant. That alarmed Lyle Mann, director of the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training board, the agency that prepares the training of all police officers on what they can and cannot do.
He said a police officer could be given “important information” about a shooting or terrorist attack from a federal source but be unable to confirm that information came from a court-approved warrant.
This legislation, Mann said, effectively makes it illegal for that police officer to go out and act on that information, and an officer who fails to follow this measure could be fired, he said.
“But if they do nothing with the information, something bad is going to happen,” Mann said.
Ward said if there's a real threat, the police should be able to get a warrant to detain someone or seize something.
Mann said that ignores the reality of what is going on. He said any information the feds have is protected by national security laws, meaning it cannot be shared with local police.
“You should be able to ask,” he conceded. “But you can't ask because it's secretive.”
Mann said the kind of information federal agents get from “metadata” obtained without warrants, like records of phone calls, helps thwart more than terrorism. He said that information can be used to investigate human trafficking, stalking and child pornography.
All that left Ward, a foe of NSA practices, frustrated. She said creating an exception to let police use information gathered by the feds in secrecy — and without a warrant — opens up “a slippery slope” of loss of individual rights.
“Even Benjamin Franklin warned us about where we can't sacrifice our liberty in the name of security,” she said. “I don't think we should be giving up liberties, especially liberties that are guaranteed to us in our Constitution under our Fourth Amendment rights in the interest of security, even if it is terrorism or child pornography.”
Ward said there's a reason for requiring a warrant from a judge before searching or seizing property — and requiring police to first provide some reason to believe that a specific person or a specific location has evidence related to a crime. Otherwise, she said, there is nothing to keep police from looking at what everyone in the hearing room is doing and writing and dialing simply as a fishing expedition to see if a crime were being committed.
Mann countered that the legislation as approved could “handcuff law enforcement unnecessarily.”
Ward said she is willing to look at changes when the measure gets to the full Senate, but Ward said she is not prepared to render the measure meaningless.
“I'm trying to protect all of our rights, not just certain rights,” she said.