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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Lawmakers Debate Balance Between Privacy And Public Safety

Chris Phan
Flickr -

Oregon lawmakers are wading into the debate on the balance between personal privacy and public safety. A slate of potential bills would limit the way law enforcement can access digital data such as that found on a cell phone or computer.

Advocates on both sides weighed in on the issue before an Oregon Senate panel Thursday.

Portland criminal defense attorney Bronson James said many of the existing laws that protect against police searches were written in the pre-digital era when most documents were on actual pieces of paper. Nowadays, he said, if you searched his smart phone, "You're going to find my health records, my financial records, my client records for the clients that I represent. You're going to find my emails. You're going to find all of the photos I take of my child. That phone has become the portal into where we contain our privacy."

Prosecutors told lawmakers that some restrictions on warrantless data searches are appropriate. But they urged the panel not to unreasonably tie the hands of law enforcement.

Both sides say the proposed legislation will need additional work before coming to a possible vote next year.