HELENA Mont. (Feb 23, 2015) – A Montana bill that would take on NSA spying by denying material support and resources to federal agencies engaged in warrantless surveillance cleared a major hurdle today, passing the House Judiciary Committee by a 12-9 vote.
Montana Rep. Daniel Zolnikov (R-45) sponsored HB443, a bill that would not only support efforts to turn off NSA’s water in Utah, but would have practical effects on federal surveillance programs if passed.
Zolnikov’s constituent services and communications director Kyle Schmauch called today’s vote a great first step.
The passage of HB443 through committee is a great first step toward Montana taking a stand against unconstitutional mass surveillance by the NSA, or any other federal agency. We still have a long way to go before this bill becomes law, but today’s vote shows that there is strong support in Montana for curtailing secret spying programs and protecting our rights.
A second important privacy bill sponsored by Zolnikov also passed the Judiciary Committee. HB445 would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before accessing “the stored data of an electronic device,” with only a few exceptions. The bill cleared the committee by an 18-3 vote.
HB443 had to overcome opposition from the Montana Department of Justice in order to pass the Judiciary Committee. According to activists present at the committee hearing last Thursday, DOJ officials claimed the legislation would prevent them from working with the FBI to catch child abusers.
OffNow executive director Mike Maharrey called the assertion “absurd” and characterized it as typical law enforcement scaremongering.
“These law enforcement lobbyists claim the sky will fall if we pass any kind of legislation to protect privacy,” he said. “Last year in Tennessee, they were saying it would keep them from catching child pornographers. This year it’s child abusers. The fact that is this legislation won’t do anything to hinder legitimate law enforcement activities. Get a warrant. Get a subpoena. Catch the bad guys. That’s how it works in America, and HB443 does nothing to stop that.”
Maharrey said Department of Justice claims that HB443 would keep Montana law enforcement from working with the FBI seems to indicate it gets illegally gathered information from the feds.
“Read the bill. It only bans cooperation with agencies that violate the Constitution. If the federal agency obtains data with a warrant, no problem. If the agency gathers data given voluntarily, no problem. If the agency gathers data using judicially recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement, such as a judge-issued subpoena, no problem. So, if the folks at the Montana DOJ are saying this bill will keep them from information sharing with the FBI, that tells me they know they are getting information from it gathered outside of those parameters.” he said. “They are complaining because the bill will do what it was intended to do – stop illegal spying.”
Both bills will move on to for full consideration in the House this week. The deadline for legislation to cross over to the Senate is Friday.