BOSTON (WWLP) – The Baker administration is re-filing legislation aimed at giving law enforcement a wider reach when it comes to surveillance.

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“As technology evolves and the public safety landscape changes, so too should the tools we use to keep our communities safe,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “The commonsense changes to the wiretap statute we are again proposing today would finally update this 50-year-old statute to recognize that law enforcement should be able to use the same tools to solve a murder committed because of racial hatred or gang affiliation that they use to solve a murder committed in connection with organized crime.”

Currently, police in the state can only use wiretaps and secret recordings to investigate cases connected to organized crime. The Baker administration wants to expand that to any cases connected to “serious offenses” even with no connection to organized crime. According to a statement posted on Mass.gov, The bill would update a statute written in 1968 to expand the authority of law enforcement to use wiretaps and secret recordings to investigate certain serious offenses that have no connection to organized crime, such as murder, rape, and possession of explosive devices.

“In 1968, the wiretap law was enacted to help law enforcement and prosecutors combat the violence perpetrated by organized crime, providing a vital solution to a 20th-century problem,” said Public Safety and Security Secretary Terrence Reidy. “Five decades later, the challenges facing law enforcement have evolved. The ability to tackle today’s criminal threats, including gang-related homicides and human trafficking, demand contemporary solutions and an updated wiretap law that meets the needs of the 21st century.”

Additional provisions of the legislation would:

  • Update definitions to reference electronic communications not in use in 1968, including wireless, satellite, and cellular communications;
  • Explicitly cover communications between out-of-state parties regarding an in-state crime;
  • Explicitly authorize Massachusetts courts to issue orders to out‑of‑state companies to implement court-ordered monitoring;
  • Explicitly authorize law enforcement to use contractors, such as translators, to monitor communications;
  • Require that law enforcement obtain an ordinary warrant for interception of information that is not the content of communications rather than a special wiretap warrant;
  • Extend the amount of time that a court may authorize interception before requiring a renewal of a warrant so that, in appropriate cases, law enforcement need not seek renewals as frequently; and
  • Exempt use of police body-worn cameras and cruiser-mounted cameras by readily-identifiable law enforcement personnel from the statute, so that state law does not stand in the way of police departments that wish to equip their officers with these devices.  This exemption is particularly important because the Massachusetts State Police has completed implementing its body-worn camera program for all sworn troopers, and because the Baker-Polito Administration has established a 5-year, $20 million capital grant program that aims to deploy 9,000 body-worn cameras to police officers in Massachusetts’ cities and towns.

Supporters say that police need the freedom to perform surveillance to keep communities safe, however, critics say this legislation could open the door to a massive invasion of privacy