Sunday, January 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Protecting privacy in the digital age

Privacy rights are not keeping up with technology. Old rules that allow police to riffle through a suspect's wallet or briefcase after being arrested are being applied to cellphones and iPads despite their vast capacity to store sensitive personal information. Legislation sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would require a court order first and is a laudable effort to discourage fishing expeditions by police. But further study is needed, particularly with a pending case before the Florida Supreme Court.

Lining up in opposition to SB 846 is most of the law enforcement community including Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Attorney General Pam Bondi. Gualtieri says that during the minimum four hours it takes to get a search warrant, investigations can be impeded and evidence can be remotely wiped out of a portable electronic device. He contends drug dealers and child pornographers will escape prosecution if law enforcement's hands are tied for even a short while.

But the U.S. Constitution is quite clear. Under the Fourth Amendment, the protection against unreasonable searches by government is paramount. Any inconvenience to police is secondary. Having to justify to a judge that there is a legitimate basis to search through the contents of an arrested person's cellphone or iPad reduces the likelihood that police will abuse their power. Easy access to a person's electronic contacts and movements around the Web could be used by authorities as a tool of political suppression.

The technical legal question is whether the search of portable electronic devices fits one of the established exceptions to the warrant requirement, known as a search incident to an arrest. Gualtieri argues that examining a suspect's cellphone log is conceptually no different than finding a piece of paper in the suspect's pocket with his phone contacts. It is different, though, in orders of magnitude. The amount of information that can be physically carried in paper form is tiny compared with the volume of material digitally stored. The warrant exception needs to acknowledge this fact.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled directly on searches of portable electronic devices, it has been taking a more skeptical view of the privacy intrusions allowed by advanced technology. More than a decade ago, the high court rejected the indiscriminate use of sophisticated thermal-imaging equipment used to identify homes potentially containing hydroponic marijuana growing operations. The court found that measuring the heat emanating from a home was indeed a search and required a court order for the device's use. Last year the high court said that attaching a GPS device to a car constitutes a search and requires a warrant, even though in the past the physical surveillance of a vehicle by police was not considered a search.

The Florida Supreme Court is about to decide Smallwood vs. State, a case that asks whether it is constitutional to search a cellphone after an arrest. It is probably worth seeing where the court ends up before the Legislature weighs in. And as Gualtieri suggests, a thoughtful examination of the issue by civil libertarians and law enforcement should be conducted with an emphasis on protecting Floridians' privacy in the digital age.

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Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

The good news on the transportation front is that Tampa Bay’s government and business leaders are working together like never before to connect the region’s largest cities, attractions and employment centers with a more robust mass transit system. Th...
Published: 01/20/18
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18