Civil Liberties, Gold Dome, Politics

HB 1152: scaling back Colorado’s surveillance state

You see them everywhere: Dark HALO cameras hanging from streetlight posts, tiny cameras ensconced in the corner of government buildings, banks of rectangular security cameras pointed at crazy angles to cover your every potential move.

The growing surveillance state is obvious. George Orwell was wrong – things are far worse than he imagined.

icon_blog_noteYou may not be aware, however, of “automated license plate readers.” These small, high-speed cameras photograph thousands of plates a minute, add a time/date stamp and note the location of the plate and the direction the car was travelling.

Still photos, video recording and license plate readers are just a part of the American surveillance state. Nothing keeps the government from collecting and storing this information forever.

House Bill 1152, “Concerning Passive Surveillance Records of Governmental Entities,” sponsored by Republican State Representative Polly Lawrence and Republican Senator Mark Scheffel, would put a one year time limit on how long state government agencies can store this information. While the sponsors are Republican, the bill has bipartisan support, including Democratic Speaker Mark Ferrandino and Representative Joseph Salazar.

This bill is a small step in the right direction, and an important statement against the surveillance state.

The bill allows for exceptions if the information stored becomes evidence in a court proceeding, and it does not apply to correctional facilities or jails.

It does, however, apply to information collected about you as you go about your daily routine, minding your own business and harming no one. Who would oppose such a harmless bill?

The very governments and agencies whose power will be reined in by the bill, of course.

The original bill placed a six-month limit on the retention of the collected data. The limit was extended to one year as part of a compromise with the state Sheriffs. The Chiefs of Police, however, are insisting on a two year limit. Tell them “no.” Six months was reasonable. One year is a valid compromise.  Two years is too much.

In addition to the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, the bill is opposed by the Colorado Municipal League and the City of Fort Collins.

Those opposed to the bill say there is no expectation of privacy in the massive amounts of public data collected by government.

Granted. There is no expectation of privacy in your public conduct. If you walk down the street, people will see you. It is not a private activity. But that is not the end of the discussion. Just because people, including government agents, can see you in public, it does not follow that massive collection of information about that public activity has no limits. It does, and it must.

A free society does not allow its government to do things just because it can. This bill recognizes that important principle.

According to the Fiscal Note on the bill prepared by the Colorado Legislative Council, the bill merely “codifies current practice” and “may minimally reduce costs.” So why the opposition? Because government agencies want to retain the power to keep these records longer if they, in their discretion, deem it necessary.

They do not need that discretion. It should be taken away from them. The surveillance state must have limits. This bill sets one.

This bill is set to be heard Tuesday, February 18, in the House Judiciary Committee at 1:30 p.m in room 0112 in the basement of the Capitol.

David K. Williams is former state chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado and founder of the Gadsden Society of Colorado.

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