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Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant get warrant protection in bill approved by House panel

Bill focuses on the smart-device era for wiretaps and tracking.

Before Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant can tell them anything, police will need a warrant, under a bill that zipped through the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Justice Tuesday.

HB 1460, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Jackie Toledo of Tampa, aims to bring Florida law up to 21st century technological standards and fairly recent federal and state court rulings for a variety of technologies now available for law enforcement to use for wiretapping and tracking.

Those include the digital personal assistants from Apple, Amazon, and Google as well as smart TVs, which can tell residents what’s going on somewhere; and, through hacking or later playback, they possibly can tell police what’s going on in the house. Under HB 1460, though, police would need a warrant, just as they would if they were tapping a phone.

HB 1460, and its counterpart in the Florida Senate, SB 210, also address the various new ways someone’s location can be tracked, through cellphones and internet-enabled geo-positioning system devices, the data kept on smartphones, and data kept in pen registers on phones or “track and trap devices.” Warrants would be needed.

The House bill, Toledo told the committee, “also clarifies that a communication recorded by a microphone-enabled device, such as an Amazon Echo or a Google Home is considered ‘protected oral communication’ for the purposes of wiretapping. The bill requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant supported by probable cause to track a person’s location in real time, whether by installing a mobile tracking device or acquiring real-time location data from cellphones or GPS.”

The bill received few questions and inspired little debate or public testimony Tuesday, and was approved unanimously.

The bill also covers GPS devices that officers could place on cars. They’ll need a warrant, have 10 days to install it, and 45 days to use it. It also extends the illegality of wiretapping by the general public to also cover any data taken, by hacking or otherwise, from smart devices, making it a crime ranging from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, depending on the action.

“With emerging technology and what not it’s good to have these standards in place,” said Democratic state Rep. Emily Slosberg of Boca Raton.

 

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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