Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed legislation allowing local law enforcement to get a warrant for electronic eavesdropping on suspected drug trafficker’s phone, email, fax, internet and other electronic communications.
House Bill 14 is sponsored by State Representative Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville).
Reynolds said that the law enforcement agency would need to get the application for surveillance approved by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) and the Alabama Attorney General’s office before they could go to a judge and ask for a warrant. A select number of Alabama judges would issue the warrants and law enforcement would have to have probable cause to ask for the warrant.
State Representative Tim Wadsworth (R-Arley) is an attorney who has done some criminal defense work.
Wadsworth said that there are some judges in Alabama who have never rejected any probable cause for a warrant.
Reynolds said that the judge that issued the wiretapping warrant would not be the same judge who hears the case.
“This is a lot like a FISA warrant, Wadsworth said.
“This is more narrow in scope,” Reynolds said. There are four layers of protection to prevent this from being abused.
Wadsworth said that the Congress said the same thing when they passed the FISA laws and then they were tapping the phone of President Trump and his team.
Reynolds said that while the warrants are solely for the investigation of drug trafficking, if during that surveillance evidence of other felonies are uncovered; then law enforcement can go back to the judge that issued the warrant and ask for permission to act on that new information.
Reynolds said that the warrants would allow only 30 days of electronic surveillance. To extend it beyond that period of time law enforcement would have to go back to the issuing judge.
“I have concerns about this, but I recognize the need,” Rep. Wadsworth said.
“I find this very troubling,” said Rep. Barry Forte (D-Eufaula). “I am going to support your bill; but I do not like giving more power to law enforcement.”
Reynolds said that this is necessary so that law enforcement can go after dangerous drug traffickers without doing face to face drug buys. Reynolds said that the bill will be named for slain Huntsville police officer Billy Clardy III who was killed doing a face to face drug buy from a dangerous drug trafficker.
HB 14 passed the house 89 to 5. It now goes to the State Senate for their consideration.