ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — State lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment that would protect personal data from unreasonable search and seizure without a warrant.
The data privacy amendment would expand the current law to protect electronic communications and data, giving it the same protection in the state constitution as papers and other personal property.
Lawmakers in favor of this constitutional amendment say it would ensure that new 21st century communications, emails, text messages and photos are protected just as much as your other personal property.
A broad spectrum of political opinion in the state is speaking as one voice: supporters range from the most conservative lawmakers to the most liberal, all believing that further protections are needed for the electronic communications of Minnesotans.
“Minnesotans support our traditional rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and they’re also saying they support a modest, targeted constitutional amendment to make it clear that these protections still apply in our digital era,” Matt Ehling, president of the Minnesota non-profit Public Record Media, said.
Supporters say the amendment will clarify that personal data is covered by the Fourth Amendment.
They also hope it closes loopholes that allow the federal government access to your emails, text messages and photos.
Sen. Branden Peterson, R-Andover, said there was a “loophole” in federal law over emails and other forms of digital communication.
“All forms of electronic communication that are over six months old can be accessed without a warrant,” Peterson said.
The bill has passed through the Civil Law Committee and will be taken up in the Government Operations committee on Thursday.
There are some lawmakers who say they’re not so sure amending the constitution is the way to go.
“I’m generally reluctant on the whole idea of constitutional amendments,” Sen. Tom Bakk, the DFL majority leader, said. “As a citizen, I don’t know if I’ve voted in support of one.”
The bill still does not have a hearing scheduled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said he still needs to be convinced the bill should be heard.
Latz said he is a strong supporter of the Fourth Amendment and shares concerns about data privacy, but is not convinced amending the constitution is the way to go.
If passed by the legislature, Minnesotans will be able to vote on the amendment in a ballot question in the 2016 election.
The Minnesota Chief of Police Association said it will not make an official public comment about the proposed amendment at this time.