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Prioritizing your privacy rights at the Legislature

Prioritizing your privacy rights at the Legislature

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As I speak with constituents in my district and all across the state, it's clear that the overwhelming majority of Montanans are concerned about the privacy of their personal information and want more protection from mass government surveillance.

While technology makes our lives easier in many ways, it also brings severe privacy vulnerabilities for Montanans. Things like receiving health care through telehealth is a critical new development for all Montanans – especially those in rural areas. However, it also means your personal medical information is susceptible to an invasion of privacy, and the state legislature must make sure that your personal information is protected.

Unfortunately, tech companies and governments exploit everyday citizens because the Founders didn't foresee the digital era. Right now, the proper protections are not in place to uphold Montanans' privacy rights. So much of our information — financial information, medical information, and even our communication with family and friends — is stored electronically. It is critical to ensuring our privacy rights are protected in the digital age.

Thankfully Senate Republicans are taking action. This past week, Sen. Ken Bogner from Miles City, introduced Senate Bill 203, which would submit a constitutional amendment to Montana's voters to protect the privacy of our electronic data and communications. SB 203 updates our outdated laws that have not yet caught up to the realities of the 21st Century.

Article II, Section 11 of the Montana State Constitution already protects Montanans' persons, papers, homes, and effects from unreasonable searches and seizures, similar to the Fourth Amendment protections of the U.S. Constitution. Senate Bill 203 adds Montanans' "electronic data and communications" to that list of places and items that cannot be searched or seized by the government without a warrant based on probable cause.

Once put into law, Senate Bill 203 will make it explicitly clear that our digital information is protected from unreasonable government searches and seizures in our Constitution.

SB 203 builds on Republicans' successful work over several legislative sessions to protect Montanans' privacy. We've already required a warrant to access cellphone location data, a warrant to access electronic devices, and a warrant to access digital communications in state law. Senate Bill 203 would make those protections even more substantial by asking voters to insert them into the Montana Constitution rather than just in law. SB 203 will also ensure our privacy rights are protected while technology inevitably continues to advance and evolve.

By updating Montana's Constitution with expanded privacy protections, Senate Republicans are following through on our promises to prioritize protecting our privacy rights, and I'll be proud to support Senate Bill 203 once it comes to a vote.

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