Electronic privacy laws debated in Helena - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana

Electronic privacy laws debated in Helena

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Of the several privacy-related bills before the 2015 Legislature, a couple of the most far-reaching proposals were heard on Friday - as efforts to protect electronic communication and electronic devices from government intrusion continue.

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects Americans from government intrusion into their persons papers and effects, without a warrant. 

But the Founding Fathers didn't think about email.

"Courts have determined that the Fourth Amendment warrant protection does not apply to any communication shared with a third party," Rep. Daniel Zolnikov (R-Billings) said.

That includes your email providers like Google, Yahoo and Hotmail, with Rep. Zolnikov saying federal law only protects unopened emails less than 180 days old. 

That law was written in the 1980s.

"It's completely outdated for today's world where we store emails, family photos and other communications for years," Zolnikov stated.

Zolnikov's House Bill 444 would require a warrant to get that information, but some folks in law enforcement say the fears of intrusion are unfounded.

Ole Olson with the Montana Department of Justice prosecutes sex crimes against children where the Internet is used, "and I want to tell you unambiguously, we get warrants to get content from third-parties in Montana. "

Others - including Lake County Undersheriff Dan Yonkin - said that the law would create confusion and tie law enforcement's hands. 

"I worry that drug dealers and child abusers will walk free due to technicalities due to technicalities that are going to be created by this bill."

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard similar opposition House Bill 445, to extend similar protections to the electronic devices themselves."

"There really isn't a lot of case law in this type of area and I think that speaks volumes for the fact that the law enforcement community is already doing a good job of making sure that Fourth Amendment rights are being preserved," Yonkin stated.

Both bills, which have already passed the Montana House by significant margins, now await action in the Montana Senate.

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