HELENA, Mont. (April 13, 2015) – A Montana state representative has launched a last-ditch effort to save a bill that would take a major step toward stopping the state from conducting mass, warrantless surveillance.
The efforts to kill HB444 serve as a perfect example of the powerful law enforcement lobbying efforts opposing privacy protections across the United States.
A Montana Senate committee tabled HB444 after intense law enforcement lobby opposition. Bill sponsor Rep. Daniel Zlonikov says that legislation can still move to the full Senate floor for a vote, but it will require strong grassroots pressure to succeed.
HB444 would require state and local government agencies to obtain a warrant before requiring an electronic communication provider to disclose “the contents of an electronic communication stored, held, or maintained by that service.” In other words, law enforcement would have to get a warrant before forcing a communications company like Facebook or Google to release information about the “substance, purport, or meaning of a communication.” This would include email, text messages and other electronic communications.
The bill does not include any exceptions to the warrant requirement.
The legislation also stipulates that government agencies cannot impose “gag orders” on communication service providers that would prohibit them from disclosing information about the request.
HB444 passed the House 69-31 before moving to the Senate and stalling in the Judiciary Committee.
Zolinikov said the Montana Department of Justice, headed by Attorney General Tim Fox, has “worked tirelessly,” to kill HB444 and other legislation to protect privacy. He said that while many law enforcement agencies opposed the bills, he placed the primary responsibility on the DOJ as the top law enforcement and legal agency in the state.
“The DOJ’s tactics to kill these bills have included fearmongering, and spreading misinformation in committees, and they have shown a complete disregard for the basic constitutional rights of Montanans,” he said.
On Wednesday, April 15, a “blast motion” will be introduced. If passed, HB444 will go to the full Senate for consideration, despite the Judiciary Committee tabling it. But Zolinikov says the move will fail without a groundswell of grassroots support.
“Emails and text messages are today’s papers and effects,” Zolinikov said. “We should have the same warrant protection for electronic communication as we do for paper documents sitting in our locked houses, but we’re not going to get these protections unless we act now.”
If you live in Montana, contact your state Senator and politely, but firmly, demand he or she support the blast motion and then vote for passage of HB444. After that, contact every other member of the Senate and do the same.
“We need to drown the entire Senate in emails, phone calls, social media – anything and everything, as much as we can, right up until the blast motion happens on Wednesday,” Zolnikov’s constituent services and communications director Kyle Schmauch said.
You can find a list of Montana state senators HERE.
Rep. Zolnikov Explains Law Enforcement Opposition to Privacy Bills