A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, accompanied by a wide coalition of data privacy advocates, are leading to the charge to amend the Minnesota Constitution to protect electronic data from warrantless searches.
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 be placed on the 2016 November election ballot. A similar measure passed in Missouri last year with 75 percent of voter support.
Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, is lead author of the Senate bill, with co-authors including Sens. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, and John Marty, DFL-Roseville. A house version sponsored by Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, is co-authored by Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul. The measure would protect bank records, text messages, emails and other data--a move they say is updating the constitution to reflect its original intents when it comes to warrantless searches.
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 unite 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."
Activists to support data privacy say the broad support is indicative of the necessity of the amendment.
“It’s not about party politics, it’s not about egos,” said Karl Eggers of Liberty Minnesota, a conservative/libertarian grassroots group. “It’s about protecting the U.S. Constitution.
Eggers was among a number of privacy advocates inattendance, including representatives of 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 chairs 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.”
Ehling said amending the constitution should not be taken lightly, but that leaving it up to interpretation by the courts could leave electronic data vulnerable.
The measure has cleared the House Civil Law Committee, and will be heard Thursday in the House Government Operations Committee. It has failed to gain traction in the Senate, where Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, has been reluctant to give the bill a hearing, saying a constitutional amendment is unnecessary given current case law.
“My hope is that we can change Sen. Latz’s mind,” Petersen said. “I believe a majority of the Senate DFL Caucus supports this bill, from the conversations I’ve had.”
Petersen added that he’s asked law enforcement for a formal opinion, but “I’d say their initial reaction was pretty good.”
The issue is among several legislative measures in recent years to rein in law enforcement’s use of technology, including bill still in the works to determine how long police can store license plate reader data. A measure last year required a tracking warrant for devices that gathered cell phone data, and other legislation would regulate how data from police body cameras are stored.
The Montana and Wyoming legislators are also considering placing similar amendments on the ballot. Petersen said search warrants are so important because they require law enforcement to notify subjects that they've been searched.
"I suspect that had all of the countless hundreds of thousands instances been notified, we would have had a lot more public scrutiny of this issue."
As it stands, Minnesota’s measure would appear on the ballot as follows:
“Should the Minnesota constitution be amended so that 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?”
Photo: Sen. Branden Petersen, at podium, leads a coalition of lawmakers and privacy experts in hopes of amending the U.S. Constituition to protect data privacy.