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Minnesota ‘Privacy Amendment’ Legislation Passes House Committee

ST. PAUL, Minn. (Mar. 2, 2015) – Minnesota voters are one step closer to having an opportunity to amend their state constitution in order to reject significant parts of mass surveillance programs by both state and federal government officials.

Introduced by State Reps. Peggy Scott (R-35B), John Lesch (DFL-66B), Tony Albright (R-55B), Cindy Pugh (R-33B), Eric Lucero (R-30B), David Bly (DFL-20B), and Steve Drazkowski (R-21B), House File 327 (HF327) was giving a “do pass” recommendation by the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee on Feb. 23.

HF327 would give Minnesota voters the chance to amend their state constitution to read as follows (emphasis added):

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, and in their electronic communications and data, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated; and no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, the person or things to be seized, and the electronic communications or data to be accessed.

If HF327 is passed by the legislature, it would bypass the Governor’s desk and go directly to the voters. On the 2016 ballot, they would be asked: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended so that the people are secure in their electronic communications and data from unreasonable searches and seizures as they are now likewise secure in their persons, homes, papers, and effects?”

The bill contains similar language to Missouri’s Amendment 9, which was passed by voters in August of 2014. It won with an overwhelming 74 percent of Missourians voting in favor of the amendment. This demonstrates that a bipartisan consensus is emerging to rebuke warrantless surveillance of electronic data and communications.

The addition of electronic communications to the list of privacy items would make emails, phone records, Internet records and other electronic information gathered without a warrant inadmissible in state court. That would include data gathered illegally by state and local law enforcement as well as the federal government.

In addition to potentially stopping Minnesota state officials from collecting electronic data without a warrant, HF327 could act as an impediment upon the growth of federal power as well. Federal data sharing programs rely on compliance from the state and local levels of government to properly function, and that would be brought to an end in MO if this measure is approved by legislators and passed by the voters.

As Reuters reported in Aug. 2013, the secretive Special Operations Division (SOD) is “funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.”

Documents obtained by Reuters show that these cases “rarely involve national security issues,” and that local law enforcement is directed by SOD to “conceal how such investigations truly begin.”

Reports in the Washington Post and USA Today last fall documented how “the FBI and most other investigative bodies in the federal government” are regularly using a mobile device known as a “stingray” to intercept and collect electronic data without a warrant. Local and state police “have access through sharing agreements.”

The decision on whether to continue giving government officials the discretion to collect electronic data warrantlessly or to enact new electronic privacy protections will ultimately be decided by the people if HF327 is successful. It must now pass successfully through the House State Government Finance Committee before it can receive a full vote in the state house.

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