Saturday, January 26, 2002

Police want easier rules
for conducting wiretaps

By Leila Fujimori

Hawaii law enforcement officials are proposing legislation to change identity fraud and wiretapping laws in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

State Attorney General Earl Anzai said changes were needed because of the recent upswing in identity theft and because the state's electronic surveillance laws are outdated.

"Everybody knows (identity theft) is a crime that's increasing, (and) not just among terrorists," Anzai said. "Taking other people's identity affects you and me."

The suggested changes are part of a five-bill package being proposed to the Legislature this session by the Law Enforcement Coalition and were presented at a news conference yesterday at the Office of the Attorney General.

The coalition includes the state attorney general, the prosecuting attorneys of Hawaii's four counties, Hawaii's four police chiefs and the U.S. attorney for Hawaii.

Anzai said the electronic surveillance bill would make it easier for law enforcement to conduct wiretapping.

Under the bill, agencies would no longer have to go through an adversarial proceeding to get permission for a wiretap, in which an attorney is appointed to represent the interests of the wiretap target.

If enacted, the agencies would still have to have the case reviewed by a surveillance review unit under the attorney general and, if approved, go before a District or Circuit Court judge for final approval.

"The current law hampers us," said Deputy Attorney General Curt Spohn.

He said Hawaii and Ohio are the only two states with laws that make wiretapping "almost unheard of."

The proposed identity theft law would categorize types of identity theft by intent, make it easier for police to charge suspects in such cases and stiffen penalties, said police Chief Lee Donohue.

Two other bills carried over from the last legislative session would provide an alternative to how felony prosecutions can be initiated. Under the current law, felony prosecutions must be initiated by grand jury indictment or by a preliminary hearing after an defendant is arrested.

The bills would allow the direct filing of information, similar to a complaint, with documents to support the charge, which a judge could use to determine probable cause.

The coalition believes the change would save time, costs and resources.

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