Lawmakers strike blow for personal constitutional rights
Most of us would be surprised that, as it stands now, the Nebraska State Patrol can find out who you've called on your telephone and who's called you, what types of drugs your doctor has prescribed, and where you spend your money and where you make it -- all without a judge's order.
Well, the patrol can, by following Attorney General Jon Bruning's legal opinion that all that is needed is what is called an administrative subpoena. To make matters worse, after that, authorities don't have to answer to a judge as to what they've found.
The Legislature gave first round approval Thursday to LB952, sponsored by Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, that would correct the current situation, requiring the State Patrol to have court orders to accessing phone, pharmacy, medical, bank and other records when conducting criminal investigations.
A patrol spokeswoman said the patrol, naturally enough, doesn't support limits on its power, and was able to have the bill amended so that, in an emergency, electronic records could be obtained in circumstances not related to a criminal investigation. That might help find some one who is in danger, for example.
On the surface, we might not see the harm in allowing authorities access to our business or medical records; after all, we have nothing to hide.
But the founding fathers knew what they were doing, and saw the need for Fourth Amendment wording specifying that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated ..."
They knew the kind of damage that might be done if otherwise innocent information fell into the hands of an overzealous or mistaken prosecution.
Yes, the Nebraska State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies need the tools and power to do their job effectively. But law and order imposed at the expense of constitutional rights is not really law and order at all. It's just another form of crime, commited by society against a group or individual.