Senate Passes Legislation to Protect Citizen’s Privacy


The Senate gave final approval to several bills aiming to protect the privacy of citizens, including legislation regarding the improper use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to collect images or video. Senate Bill 1892 is a proactive measure as the Federal Aviation Administration, which currently has authority over UAVs, is in the process of lifting their regulations, creating a vacuum in Tennessee law for the private use of these vehicles.

Current laws are deficient in addressing covert, hidden, or surreptitious video surveillance in private locations. The bill creates a criminal offense for using these vehicles except for certain exceptions, including the landowner’s permission, testing of aircraft authorized by the FAA, activity by the military, law enforcement for the pursuit of felony criminals, satellite mapping, and such emergency situations like an oil spill, fire suppression and to rescue a person in danger. A violation of the basic prohibition will be a Class C misdemeanor under the bill with subsequent distribution or use of unauthorized images as a Class B misdemeanor.

There is a growing use of UAVs in agriculture as farms utilize them for such purposes as monitoring their crops or detecting pests. This bill protects those uses by allowing the owner to consent, while preserving the basic rights of privacy for individuals and business from intrusive conduct.

Privacy Rights / Search and Seizure — The State Senate voted on Monday night to prohibit law enforcement officers from searching or seizing a person’s cellular telephone data, unless there is a search warrant, the owner gives informed consent, it is abandoned or exigent circumstances exists to suspect criminal activity at the time of the seizure. Senate Bill 1757 would classify cellular telephones as sealed containers and prohibit the search and seizure during a routine traffic stop.

No cellular telephone data that is obtained in violation of the proposed law would be allowable in any court of law as evidence. The bill would become effective on July 1, 2014.

Surveillance / Electronic Devices — Finally, State Senators voted to prohibit state and local police agencies from accessing or retrieving the location data of residents by surveillance of an electronic device without a court warrant. Senate Bill 2087 would help ensure government does not take advantage of technological advances in cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices to spy without appropriate judicial oversight.

The electronic privacy bill is modeled after one passed in Montana which allows exceptions only in order to respond to a possible life-threatening situation, an emergency call by the user or when a device is reported as stolen, unless there is informed consent by the owner. The legislation prescribes a Class C misdemeanor for violation.