News that the government has been collecting phone records has renewed the debate over privacy. Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-13) is involved in a package of bills that addresses privacy issues. She told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor that the bills address privacy from a number of different angles.
“The bottom line is that people are genuinely and legitimately upset with the notion of government stalking them and actually spying on them during many facets of their private lives. So I’ve come up with a number of ways to attack this,” Handlin said.
One of the bills requires judicial approval before a government entity installs surveillance cameras or other video recording devices, Handlin explained. Another one of the bills requires judicial approval for police to record people’s license plates and if they get permission to scan the information, they have to destroy it in 72 hours.
“So there are really two triggers in the bills. Trigger number one is to be collecting information about innocent people in the first place, government entities need to make a case before a judge that it’s required the same way they would have to make a case to get a warrant to search one’s home,” Handlin said. “And the second trigger is if they collect information and they want to keep it for any considerable period of time, again, they have to go before a judge and they have to get explicit permission to do so.”
While Handlin says there can be legitimate reasons for surveillance, she believes the burden of proof should be on the government. “Americans look to the government to protect them, not to spy on them. And those roles have been reversed at the same time that technology is changing the landscape so radically that none of us can really know or imagine the kinds of nefarious purposes to which that kind of data could be put,” she said.
Handlin said the legislation focuses on the government’s involvement in surveillance and not issues in private businesses, but she said that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be concerned about what’s happening in the private sector. She said the public recently learned that there are retail establishments and other private sector establishments that are installing various kinds of surveillance devices to track what people are doing and how much time they’re spending in the businesses.
“I wouldn’t tell those private businesses that they shouldn’t do it. What I would tell them is they should disclose clearly to their customers that the customers are under surveillance and then let the customers make the decision whether or not they’re comfortable with that,” Handlin said.