Proposed Constitutional Amendment passes the legislature, will go to voters

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

HELENA, Mont. — A proposed amendment to Montana’s State Constitution has passed the Legislature and will appear on the ballot in 2022 for ratification by the voters.

The constitutional amendment was brought by Senator Ken Bogner, R-Miles City. It would change the state’s constitution to protect the privacy of Montanans’ electronic data and communications.

Article II, Section 11 of the Montana State Constitution already protects Montanans’ persons, papers, homes, and effects from unreasonable searches and seizures, similar to the Fourth Amendment protections of the U.S. Constitution.

The constitutional amendment proposed by Senate Bill 203 would add Montanans’ “electronic data and communications” to that list of places and items that cannot be searched or seized by the government without a warrant based on probable cause.

“This amendment is about updating Montana’s Constitution to reflect life in the 21st Century and make it explicitly clear that our digital information is protected from unreasonable government searches and seizures,” Bogner said. “Today, so much of our private lives—financial information, communication with family and friends, medical information, and much, much more—is contained on and transferred electronically among many devices and computer systems. The government should need a warrant before accessing or gathering Montanans electronic data or communications.”

“I am proud to watch Montana continue to expand the privacy rights of our citizens. Our nation’s leaders in Washington, D.C., could learn a lesson or two from the Montana Legislature on how to work across the aisle and stand up to unchecked government surveillance,” said former state Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, who became known for his work on protect digital privacy during his time in the Legislature. “Montana continues to find a better balance between using our digital technologies and protecting our Fourth Amendment rights.”

“Montanans are overwhelmingly concerned about the privacy of their personal information and they want more protections from mass government surveillance,” said Kendall Cotton, President and CEO of the Frontier Institute, a Montana-based think tank. “Updating Montana’s Constitution with expanded privacy protections will send a strong message that state government is making our rights a priority.”

“Digital devices are the modern equivalent of your home and should be treated with the same respect. Digital rights are just as important as physical rights; we just need to update the law to account for this,” said Eric Fulton, a fellow with the Frontier of Privacy initiative by the Frontier Institute. “Tech companies are exploiting everyday citizens because the Founders didn’t foresee the digital era. Its time to update the law to match their intent. The Montana Constitution protects your privacy in your home. It should protect your digital home as well.”