HARRISBURG — A bill to make it easier for Pennsylvania prosecutors to obtain certain personal information about Internet users in child sex abuse cases is drawing flak from civil libertarians who warn that it could compromise privacy.
The legislation would allow agents of the state attorney general and county district attorneys to issue administrative subpoenas, instead of the court-issued search warrants that are currently required, to identify people suspected of transmitting child pornography.
The subpoenas would require service providers to supply names, addresses and phone numbers of customers traced through their computers’ Internet Protocol addresses.
Police still would need to show cause and obtain search warrants signed by a judge in order to gather evidence and make arrests.
The bill could come up for a House vote as early as Monday.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane supports the measure because she says it would allow authorities to respond more quickly to evidence of such activity. The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association also has endorsed the bill.
In a recent letter to House members, Kane said the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, a national network financed by the U.S. Justice Department, identified nearly 3,000 Pennsylvania IP addresses that downloaded child pornography in December alone.
“These child predators need to be quickly prosecuted and the children identified in these horrific images need to be immediately removed from these terrible situations,” she said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania opposes the measure. It contends that eliminating the requirement for a search warrant in the first stage of such investigations would reduce the courts’ role as a check on abuses of government power.