New York’s legislature is open for business in the new year, and we’re jumping in to renew our support for two crucial bills that protect New Yorkers’ privacy rights. While very different, both pieces of legislation would uphold a principle we hold dear: people should not worry that their everyday activities will fuel unnecessary surveillance.
The first piece of legislation is A. 7326/S. 6541—New York bills must have identical versions in each house to pass—which protects the confidentiality of medical immunity information. It does this in several key ways, including: limiting the collection, use and sharing of immunity information; expressly prohibiting such information from being shared with immigration or child services agencies; and requiring that those asking for immunity information also accept an analog credential—such as a paper record.
As New Yorkers present information about their immunity—vaccination records, for example, or test results— to get in the door at restaurants or gyms, they shouldn’t have to worry that that information will end up in places they never expected. They shouldn’t have to worry that a company working with the government on an app to present these records will keep them to track their movements. And they should not have to worry that this information will be collected for other purposes by companies or government agencies. Assuring people that their information will not be used in unauthorized ways increases much-needed trust in public health efforts.
The second piece of legislation, A. 84/ S. 296, also aims to stop unnecessary intrusion on people’s everyday lives. This legislation would stop law enforcement from conducting a particularly troubling type of dragnet surveillance on New Yorkers, by stopping “reverse location” warrants. Such warrants—sometimes also called “geofence” warrants—allow law enforcement agencies to conduct fishing expeditions and access data about dozens, or even hundreds, of devices at once. Government use of this surveillance tactic is incredibly dangerous to our freedoms, and has been used to disproportionately target marginalized communities. Unfortunately courts have rubber-stamped these warrant requests without questioning their broad scope. This has shown that requiring warrants alone is not enough to protect our privacy; legislatures must act to stop these practices.
Location data is highly sensitive, and can reveal information not only about where we go, but about whom we associate with, the state of our health, or how we worship. Reverse location warrant searches implicate innocent people and have a real impact on people’s lives. Even if you are later able to clear your name, if you spend any time at all in police custody, this could cost you your job, your car, and your ability to get back on your feet after the arrest.
We urge the New York Legislature to pass these bills, stand up for their constituents’ privacy, and stand against creeping surveillance that disrupts the lives of people just trying to get through the day.