The Pennsylvania State House this week is expected to pass a bill that will make it easier for police to obtain records of residents' Internet and phone activity.
House Bill 90 would allow law enforcement entities operating under the auspices of an investigation into child sexual exploitation to issue an administrative subpoena to an Internet or cellular telephone provider for a customer's records without the need for a judge to approve a search warrant.
The approval for the administrative subpoena would instead would come from either the state Attorney General's office or from a district attorney's office.
The bill's supporters in the law enforcement community argue that the bill will enable them to move more swiftly against persons suspected of engaging in crimes ranging from trading child pornography to kidnapping and the trafficking of underaged minors. Critics allege that the bill infringes upon the the right against unreasonable search and seizure as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Andy Hoover, legislative director for the Pennsylvania ACLU, told the PA Independent that removing a "neutral, third-party observer" like a judge from the process will increase the potential for law enforcement to abuse its search authority.
Administrative subpoenas are widely used by federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The Pennsylvania law would give state and local law enforcement agencies similar power.
State Representative Madeline Dean (D-153), who represents Abington and Upper Dublin Townships in the Legislature, was the only member of the Judiciary Committee to vote against the bill last week.
“I worry anytime we take away court review,” Dean told the Independent. “Let’s make sure we craft these things carefully and do not bypass court review except in special circumstances.”
The bill could reach the House floor on Tuesday. Assuming it passes, it will then move on to the State Senate.