PHOENIX — A Senate panel voted late Monday to block state and local police from using information federal agents obtained without warrants, despite claims it could lead to Arizonans dying in terrorist attacks.
The legislation, approved by the Senate Committee on Government and Environment, would bar public employees and departments from helping federal agencies collect electronic data from Arizonans without a search warrant that “describes the person, place and thing to be searched or seized.”
Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, said she does not want the state involved in helping the National Security Agency with what she believes is the unconstitutional gathering of metadata, such as phone and email records.
But SB 1156 also would make it illegal for police or prosecutors to use any information in any criminal probe that a federal agency obtained without a warrant.
That alarmed Lyle Mann, director of the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board, the agency that prepares the training of all police officers on what they can and cannot do.
He said a police officer could be given important information about a shooting or terrorist attack from a federal source but be unable to confirm the information came from a court-approved warrant.
This legislation, Mann said, makes it illegal for the police officer to act on that information. And an officer who fails to follow this measure could be fired, he said.
“But if they do nothing with the information, something bad is going to happen,” Mann said.
Ward said if there’s a real threat, the police should be able to get a warrant to detain someone or seize something.
Mann said that ignores reality because any information the feds have is protected by national security laws, meaning it cannot be shared with local police.
“You should be able to ask,” he conceded. “But you can’t ask because it’s secretive.”
Mann said the kind of information federal agents get from metadata obtained without warrants, like records of phone calls, helps thwart more than terrorism. He said that information can be used to investigate human trafficking, stalking and child pornography.
All that left Ward, a foe of NSA practices, frustrated. She said creating an exception to let police use information gathered by the feds without a warrant opens up “a slippery slope” of loss of individual rights.
“Even Benjamin Franklin warned us about where we can’t sacrifice our liberty in the name of security,” she said.
Ward said there’s a reason for requiring a warrant from a judge before searching or seizing property. Otherwise, there is nothing to keep police from looking at what everyone in the hearing room is doing and writing and dialing simply as a fishing expedition.
Ward said she is willing to look at changes when the measure gets to the full Senate, but she is not prepared to render the measure meaningless.