Bill 'Undermines Basic Principles of the American System of Government'

HARRISBURG - After a two-week recess, the Pennsylvania General Assembly prepares to return to Harrisburg next week, and the state House of Representatives is prepared to consider legislation to ease the ability of the government to gather personally identifying information of Internet users via an administrative subpoena, rather than a court-approved search warrant. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has protested the legislation, saying that it undermines basic principles of the American system of government.

"From the start, our system has required the executive branch to tell the judicial branch what it is doing when conducting a search and when gathering our personal information," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "This bill eliminates that requirement in some situations.

"The government doesn't get a pass on court-approval because of the type of crime or because it's too hard."

House Bill 90, which is currently on the House calendar, would allow law enforcement to issue an administrative subpoena to Internet service providers in an effort to obtain the name, address, and phone number of an Internet user in child sexual abuse investigations. An administrative subpoena is issued directly by an agency to the recipient, without approval from a court.

Under current law, law enforcement must obtain court approval before gathering the personally identifying information of Internet users.

"While the language of the bill is specific to certain investigations, there is no mechanism for ensuring that this power is actually used for only those investigations," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "The attitude of the supporters is, ‘Trust us.' But our system is built on checks and balances, not trust that people in government will always do the right thing."