After the long and stressful 2016 election cycle, it is time to look to the future of our country with its newly elected officials. We have the option to focus on the crazy statements President Trump made on Twitter, or instead we can focus on more concrete issues such as bills that will soon pass through the House and the Senate. Here in the Treasure State, the Legislature has convened and bills are being introduced across the political spectrum. One elected legislator is doing his part to protect online privacy rights of Montanans. Daniel Zolnikov of Billings House District 47, has introduced House Bills (HB) 147 and 148 to the Montana State Legislature. These two constitutionally sound bills protect the legal right to privacy from the law in an online setting.
HB 147 requires any government entity to obtain a search warrant for any electronic device that has access to electronic communication services, location information services, or remote computing services. This bill extends to computers, phones, GPS’s and more. If passed, it would protect personal property from law enforcement unless informed consent is obtained or there is a judicially recognized exception, which is rare.
HB 148 goes even further to defend personal rights. The most important thing this bill does is protect people’s electronic communication. A search warrant must be obtained by the law if they would like to obtain access to any electronic communications from an individual or a service. If a warrant is obtained, and the information is given to the government, the customer of the electronic service must be notified. Any transfer of words, images, signals, signs, sounds, or data transmitted electronically from one device to the next is protected. Under this bill, if the police wanted access to your Facebook messages, for example, they would have to go to Facebook with a warrant before they obtain any information. If they were successful in this, you would be notified that your messages had been obtained by the government.
Based on a recent email conversation I had with Zolnikov, passing these bills is important to him because he is interested in protecting Montanans and their privacy and property. He noted that cell phones are generally protected due to a Supreme Court case in 2013, but other devices are not. The decision in this court case, Riley vs. California, resulted in the court stating that search and seizure of cell phone content during an arrest is unconstitutional and illegal without a warrant. This case was important, but does not extend far enough, which is why Zolnikov introduced HB 147 and HB 148.
These bill are constitutionally coherent because they extend protection of people’s property from the law. It forces government officials in Montana to abide by Amendment 4 of the Constitution. The 4th Amendment gives people security against unreasonable searches and seizures and states that “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” If HB 147 passes and is signed into law, the government will have to abide by this amendment and go through the correct process of obtaining evidence with a probable cause and legally get signed off for a warrant before they search your property.
Although there is no date for voting on these bills, they will be reviewed by a house committee on Friday, January 20, 2016. Citizens will have had a chance to stand in front of this committee and let the members know whether they think the bills should be approved or not. For more information about the Montana Legislature and the bills that will be introduced this year, visit leg.mt.gov. For more information about Daniel Zolnikov, visit danielzolnikov.com, where you can find his contact information.