Home Social Justice Email Privacy Bill, Texting Ban Impact Ohio Communication

Email Privacy Bill, Texting Ban Impact Ohio Communication

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New and proposed laws on the state and national levels may soon have an effect on the way Ohioans communicate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted this past week to approve a bill that could strengthen email privacy. The new bill, if signed into law, would require police to obtain a search warrant before they search a suspect’s email. The current law does not require a search warrant when investigating emails that are over 180 days old.

Government officials are torn on their opinions regarding the proposed law. Some argue that in the past, the freedom to search through old emails without going through the lengthy process of obtaining a search warrant has helped quicken the process of collecting evidence.

“We had individuals that were sending emails who were pedophiles and who were arrested as a result of us being allowed to have access to that information,” said Richard Baron, executive director of the Ohio Department of Homeland Security.

Baron has served as a state trooper with the highway patrol for 25 years. He said that during his time in law enforcement, police were still required to obtain a special type of subpoena before searching emails for evidence, but a search warrant was not required. In his opinion, a change in the current law is unnecessary due to the success of the old system.

“There was one individual who had been emailing a girl for five years. The law has been very effective for law enforcement to go back and report suspect’s activity. A change may hamper law enforcement in some regard,” Baron said.

Some government officials, on the other hand, disagree. According to a Nov. 26 New York Times article, some federal judges consider devices such as laptops and cell phones to be “containers” that can only be searched without a warrant if they are on a person while he or she is arrested. And others at the complete opposite end of the spectrum as Baron believe that text messages and emails are akin to face-to-face conversations and thus citizens should “reasonably expect them to be private.”

The lame-duck Senate will not vote on the bill. It will be put to the test when the new Senate reconvenes in January.

Until then, Ohioans have to face another issue that may affect the way they communicate: the newly enacted law that bans texting while driving statewide.

Ohio is one of the last states to implement such a law, following in the steps of 38 other states and even its own capital. The city of Columbus has had a ban in place since May of 2010, over two years before the statewide law took effect Aug. 31 of this year.

Drivers 18 and older will receive a fine of $150 if they are caught texting behind the wheel. The law does not forbid the use of mobile devices for other reasons – such as using it as a GPS system – for drivers of legal age.

For younger drivers, the restrictions are much more intense. Drivers 17 and younger, with a temporary or permanent license, may not use their mobile devices for any reason – including playing music, making phone calls and looking up directions – while they are driving.

“The stricter rules on [drivers] under 18 are geared toward limiting all distractions including talking and texting. Young drivers are inexperienced and are a leading group in Ohio for total traffic crashes as well as fatal traffic crashes,” said Lt. Anne Ralston of the state highway patrol.

The effectiveness of the new law will likely be evident in the coming months.

“It is too early to tell. There is a 6 month warning period,” Ralston said.

Between the new statewide texting-while-driving ban and the proposed national law that could further protect suspects’ emails, the way Ohioans communicate is slowly but surely starting to change. These changes are sure to grow even more and more obvious as the first warning period of the texting ban comes into play when the first tickets are issued on or about March 1, 2013.

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