The Investigators: Lawmakers propose stricter cell phone search laws

The Investigators: Lawmakers propose stricter cell phone search laws
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - When and how the Louisiana Attorney General's Office can peek inside the public's cell phone will soon be up for debate at the State Capitol.

One state legislator said a report by the 9News Investigators led him to get involved.

If you own a cell phone, you probably already assume law enforcement in Louisiana can track almost anyone wherever they are. There is a long list of agencies that are allowed to do it. Now the Louisiana Attorney General's Office wants to join in.

State Representative Bryan Adams of New Orleans has filed a bill that, if passed, would allow the AG to look into public cell phones and see who people have been talking to.

"It's simply, they will be able to tell who called you and when you called them. There will still be no voice communication, and no text messages will be received. It's strictly to know you called another phone," Adams said.

The 9News Investigators learned in February the AG's office has equipment that is capable of doing a whole lot more.

They can do so by using cell site simulators which allow law enforcement to get into your phone and see your contacts, call lists and text messages.

Cell phones are programmed to automatically connect to the strongest nearby cell tower. A device known as an International Mobile Subscriber Identity Catcher, or IMSI, pretends to be a legitimate cell phone tower and lets the cops quickly search cell phones in the area. It can also be mounted in police cars and airplanes. They can do it randomly, without a court order.

The 9News Investigators learned the Louisiana AG's Office got one back in 2011. According to travel expense reports, the AG's Office sent four people to Florida to be trained to use it.

State Representative Kenny Havard of St. Francisville said after seeing the report by the 9News Investigators, he drafted a bill that would change current law and allow the AG's Office to use the surveillance equipment, but only if they first get a search warrant before digging into a cell phone.

"I think people's privacy should be the utmost, top priority for all governments. We have a right to our privacy and they should have to go through the proper channels if they want to search my phone," Havard said.

Representative Havard added he also wants to put a limit on what kind of information authorities who use the equipment store and for how long.

The AG's office declined an on-camera interview, but said they do have a cell site simulator and will get a court order to use it.

In addition they said, "With this particular device, we cannot intercept calls, read tests or identify the operator or a particular cell phone. This technology is used in a lawful and responsible manner, and we have the utmost respect for citizen privacy."

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