Op-Ed by Rep. David Taylor: Technology vs. your individual liberties? Who wins may depend on who’s in the fight

When I was first elected to Olympia to represent the 15th Legislative District, I quickly immersed myself in subjects with which I was familiar: land use regulations, the Growth Management Act, local government issues, and the ever-encroaching bureaucracies of state agencies. These are still issues that I deal with constantly in the Legislature. But I’m always aware of when government – ANY government – tries to usurp the liberties and rights of the individual.

I often ask myself, “When is technology a good thing and when does it qualify as bad?” I’m sure those of us who use pcs, cell phones and apps on a daily basis wonder what we once did in lieu of the hours we spend glancing, checking or staring at glowing screens. We joke that technology is supposed to make our lives easier, right?

Maybe I can ask that question in a more precise way: what happens when unchecked technology is used in the wrong ways to encroach upon the freedoms, rights and liberties of the citizenry? In my opinion, it’s up to your elected leaders to ensure this doesn’t happen. And if is happening, we should be fighting and working at every turn to push back the tide.

As Benjamin Franklin is often quoted: “He who would sacrifice liberty for security deserves neither.”

Last year, after several disturbing reports of law enforcement agencies using so-called “stingrays” to gather cell phone data without a warrant, I sponsored legislation to rein in the practice.

A stingray is a cell site simulator that mimics a cellphone tower. It allows law enforcement agencies to capture detailed information from a suspect’s phone, including location and who the person calls or texts. However, they act as a huge net, drawing information from not only the suspect, but from average – and innocent – citizens in the immediate area.

I have serious concerns about when these devices are used and how the information collected from innocents is stored and later accessed. But for now, my bill, HB 1440 which passed both the House and Senate unanimously and was signed into law by the governor, requires a judge to issue a warrant before they can be used.

For the last several years I’ve worked to put parameters in place around the government’s use of drones. Again, questions arise as to what kind of information the government can obtain on innocent private citizens, how that information is stored, who has access to it for how long, and are the people even aware of the information gathering in the first place?

In 2014, my legislation passed both the House and Senate, only to be vetoed by Gov. Inslee, who then ordered a temporary moratorium on the state’s use of drones and created a task force to study the issue.

This year, I’ve sponsored legislation (HB 2570) to limit the subpoena power of special inquiry judges. In December, the state Supreme Court affirmed a 1971 law that says a search warrant needs to be based on probable cause. However, we have these special inquiry judges who meet in secret and can access bank records without a warrant. We have to have a search warrant to look through someone’s trash but not their bank records? It makes no sense.

In an effort to address my overall concerns with the government’s ability to collect, store and access private information, I’ve sponsored an amendment to the state constitution to ensure that electronic communications and data are secure from unreasonable searches and seizures.

It’s important to note that a recent Freedom of Information Act request revealed that federal agencies were using city utility poles to install spy cameras in Seattle. This is a direct violation of a city ordinance and was done without the knowledge and consent of those governing the city!

While I will always work hard on issues that tend to get more media attention, like protecting your Second Amendment rights, working to help make our region more jobs friendly, and helping private property owners deal with state agencies, privacy and individual liberties will always hold a special place in my heart. I value liberty too much to give it up on the altars of convenience and expediency. I hope you will join me in my efforts keep the government’s nose out of your business.

(Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, has served in the Legislature since 2009. He is the ranking Republican on the House Local Government Committee and serves on the House Appropriations Committee.)

State Representative David Taylor, 15th Legislative District
421 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7874 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000