Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a bill sponsored by State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) that requires police to get a warrant before using information from the GPS in a person’s phone or other device.

“This is one of many areas where technological advances have suddenly made possible unprecedented intrusions into what most people would consider their private lives,” Biss said in a statement.

The new law, Biss says, “acknowledges the important role new technology can play in protecting the public, while at the same time drawing a line to preserve reasonable expectations of privacy.” 

Tuesday night, Biss hosted a forum on “Rethinking Privacy in a Digital Age” at the Skokie Public Library, where his speakers noted that privacy is vanishing fast as new technologies make it increasingly easier and less expensive for business and government, in particular, to detect where individuals are going, who they communicate with, what movies they see, books they read, and items they purchase.

Although government is helpless in many instances, legislators do have the power to regulate the use of technology by government itself, Biss said.

Speakers at the forum included Rajiv Shah, adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Jeremy Staum, Restore the Fourth Chicago; and Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel with the ACLU Illinois.

Panelists Schwartz, Staum, and Shah answer questions from the audience at Biss’ forum in Skokie Tuesday night.

The location surveillance legislation, introduced as Senate Bill 2808, allows law enforcement to obtain a tracking order — similar to a search warrant — if they have probable cause to believe obtaining current or future location information from an individual’s electronic device is needed to solve a crime or prevent a crime from taking place.

In the absence of a tracking order, information collected through electronic surveillance is inadmissible in court.

The legislation contains exceptions for emergencies such as responding to a 911 call, locating a missing person believed to be in danger or keeping track of a parolee or other person ordered by a court to wear an electronic monitoring device.

It also clarifies that police and prosecutors may still make use of information already available to the public, such as locations posted publicly on social media.

The governor on Tuesday also signed a bill Biss sponsored designed to crack down on “patent trolls.”

“Illinois businesses — particularly small businesses that aren’t in a position to hire pricey legal representation and embark on lengthy court battles against harassing fraudsters — deserve the full protection of the law,” Biss said. “The new penalties will put patent trolls on notice that Illinois isn’t a fertile location for their scams.”

The new law targets the practice of extorting money from businesses by threatening to sue them for fictitious violations of patents that may have expired or may not be owned by the “trolls” at all.

Patent trolling, Biss says, is lucrative because many businesses, especially smaller companies that can’t afford to hire legal representation, opt to pay the scammers rather than spending time and money fighting them in court.

Biss’ measure prohibits misrepresenting one’s self as the owner of a patent, seeking compensation on the basis of activities undertaken after a patent has expired, falsely claiming to have filed a patent lawsuit or using any written form of communication, including email, to falsely accuse a person or company of a patent violation with the intent of forcing a settlement.

If found to be in violation of the law, patent trolls will be subject to civil penalties and/or forced to pay restitution.

Both new laws take effect immediately.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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