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2013 Alumnus Battles for Electronic Privacy for Virginians

 

 

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Just nine months after completing law school at Catholic University, Ayaz Minhas has enjoyed a postgraduate education in the real world that most newly minted lawyers can only dream of.
 
Minhas has already assisted with drafting two pieces of legislation, and ably defended them before state lawmakers, that would go a long way toward covering gaps in existing law that protect the electronic privacy of residents of Virginia.
 
Working with state Delegate Robert G. “Bob” Marshall (R-13th district), Minhas helped to craft the substance into HB 17,  a bill that would require a warrant for real time tracking of cellular devices and for obtaining historical location data from a cell carrier.

Law enforcement must have a warrant to attach a GPS to a car in Virginia, but they aren’t necessary to ask a cell carrier to “ping” an individual’s cellular device, nor to request that a cell carrier divulge historical location data about an individual’s cellular device.
 
Minhas had the opportunity to explain and promote the bill in Richmond before the House Courts of Justice Subcommittee on Criminal Law.
 
“I explained to the committee how location data from a mobile phone can be gathered through GPS tracking, network based tracking, Cell ID, and Crowdsourcing,” Minhas recalls. “Through aggregation of these data points, you can paint a sensitive picture of a person’s life. Since many cell carriers retain this information for years, if not indefinitely, I explained to the committee that Delegate Marshall and I believe that a warrant should be required before law enforcement can access this information.”
 
Minhas’ enthusiasm as an advocate for individual privacy rights was whetted by the Conflicts of Law course he took as a 3L with Professor Bob Destro, who later put him in touch with Delegate Marshall.
 
Electronic privacy issues were everywhere in the news, including such stories as the privacy concerns raised by the NSA’s practices and the Edward Snowden leaks to the Guardian newspaper.
 
“I think this is an area of the law that will expand,” Minhas concludes. After passing the Virginia bar exam on his first try, he began to focus in earnest on privacy law.
 
That led to collaborating with Delegate Marshall (left) on a second bill, HB325, designed to create a right to privacy in the content and metadata of intrastate electronic communications.
 
“Virginia doesn't recognize a common law right to privacy,” Minhas explains.
 
“Delegate Marshall and I believe that HB 325 will establish a layer of protection for Virginia citizens in their electronic communications. In addition to creating a right to privacy in these communications, our bill would provide for a civil cause of action against an entity that unlawfully intercepts or examines these communications.”
 
Back before the legislature Minhas went, testifying on behalf of HB 325 before the House Courts of Justice Subcommittee for Civil Law. In this instance, the bill drew adversarial comment from some telecommunications, Internet, and online advertising representatives, who worried that the measure as drafted would interfere with the practice of spam and malware monitoring.
 
Minhas, who is self-employed and looking to join a firm, non-profit, or consulting company that practices in the areas of privacy and data security, has already learned that advocating for a new law is one thing; getting it passed is quite another.  
 
HB 325 is likely to need some retooling if it is to ever see a full vote by the Virginia legislature. Minhas is more optimistic, however, about the prospects for enhancing privacy regulations around people’s cell phones.
 
“My prediction is that a version of the bill that requires a warrant for real time tracking will become law,” he says.