ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers announced Wednesday far-reaching efforts to stop what they say is the virtually unrestricted snooping into personal data.

It’s part of a 17-state effort to introduce privacy bills across the nation. In Minnesota, an unusual coalition of lawmakers is behind the privacy push.

As it stands, there are few laws stopping businesses, governments or even schools from snooping. One lawmaker described the current state of affairs as “the Wild West.”

For many students and their parents, getting a free tablet or laptop from school is a big deal. But what many don’t know is that the business or school providing the device can access student data stored on it whenever it wants.

This data includes potential mental health data and information on sexual orientation.

“Any of these items are private and should not be accessed by a school,” said Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul).

Six bills unveiled on Wednesday would limit access to sensitive information, including a ban on schools forcing students to provide passwords to social media.

The same goes for business. The bills would forbid them from forcing employees or job applicants to show their social media.

The new laws would also require search warrants for police to access emails or cell phone data.

“Privacy is not about keeping secrets,” said Chuck Samuelson, the executive director of the ACLU in Minnesota and a privacy advocate. “It is about maintaining control over our own lives.”

The bills are being introduced by an unusual coalition of liberal and conservative lawmakers — all of them calling for tougher state privacy laws in the 2016 legislative session.

“This is a pre-emptive strike,” said Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover). “We want to protect people before they are damaged by personal information getting out to the wrong hands.”

Lawmakers last year started to regulate police license plate readers and body cameras.

This year, they may also look at the use of government drones and what kind of video can be collected and stored.

Pat Kessler

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