A move to change the Minnesota Constitution to protect text messages, e-mails and other electronic data from warrantless searches is getting enthusiastic support from a broad coalition of lawmakers and privacy advocates, but could face roadblocks from key DFL Senate leaders.
The “My Life, My Data” movement would make Minnesota the second state to amend its Constitution by adding the words “electronic communications and data” to Section 10 of the document, which guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” If approved, the amendment would appear on the November 2016 election ballot. A similar measure passed in Missouri last year with 75 percent of voter support.
The Minnesota version would protect bank records, text messages, e-mails and other data. Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, is teaming up with DFL Sens. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis and John Marty of Roseville to push the amendment they say is needed to update the Constitution for the 21st century. A House version sponsored by Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, also has bipartisan support.
Dibble, who chairs the Transportation and Public Safety Committee, said he signed on because of the ever-blurring line between what is public and private information.
“This is a set of values that unites all of us across our different party affiliations and ideologies,” he said. “I think a central unifying premise of our system of government is we only need as much government as necessary.”
The measure is working its way through House committees, but has hit an obstacle in the Senate, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, has blocked the bill from being heard in his committee. Latz said he opposes legislating by amendment, and thinks the proposal is redundant because recent court decisions support requiring a warrant for electronic data. Petersen counters that many circumstances have not been addressed by the courts, leaving data vulnerable.
“My hope is that we can change Senator Latz’s mind,” Petersen said. “I believe a majority of the Senate DFL caucus supports this bill, from the conversations I’ve had.”
Petersen said he has asked law enforcement for a formal opinion, but “I’d say their initial reaction was pretty good.”
Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, declined to comment on the proposal.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Monday he is reluctant to see the amendment go forward and has not broached the topic with Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, of Crown.
“I’m generally reluctant on the whole idea of Constitutional amendments. In fact as a citizen I don’t know that I’ve ever voted in support of one,” Bakk said. “I think it would be unlikely we’re going to consider this for the ballot in ’16.”
Dibble, however, noted that the opinion of leadership may not be as influential in the Senate.
“The Senate operates a little differently than the House, and to be honest with you I wonder if Senator Bakk is even aware of this bill at this point,” Dibble said Monday. “We haven’t had a conversation in the caucus about it … it would be my goal and my intention to raise this conversation in a larger context setting.”
‘It’s not about party politics’
Karl Eggers, of Liberty Minnesota, a libertarian grass roots group, said the measure goes beyond the usual red/blue divide.
“It’s not about party politics, it’s not about egos,” Eggers said. “It’s about protecting the U.S. Constitution.
Eggers was among a number of privacy advocates who attended the Monday news conference, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, Tea Party Minnesota, Occupy Minnesota and others.
“Everyone up here is saying Minnesota supports its traditional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures,” said privacy advocate Matt Ehling, who also leads the legislative issues committee for the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information. “They’re also saying they support a modest, targeted constitutional amendment to make clear that these protections still apply in our digital era.”
On Monday afternoon the Republican Party of Minnesota sent out an e-mail touting the proposed amendment and urging supporters to contact Latz’s office to ask for a hearing.