Missouri is laying out the law plain and simple: there will be no warrantless searches of electronic data and communications in their state. On April 3, the Missouri Senate passed legislation that would give electronic data and communications the same Fourth Amendment protections as “persons, houses, papers, or effects.”
Senate Joint Resolution 27 (SJR27) revised the “privacy rights” section in the state’s constitution to clarify that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to their electronic data. The resolution would require law enforcement to get a warrant to access such data and this warrant would have to specify what data or communications would be collected. The language of the legislation is designed to counter arguments that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t protect electronic data from unreasonable, warrantless searches and seizures. SJR27 effectively modernizes the constitution’s language to show that as technology progresses, privacy rights will not get left behind.
While the SJR27 legislation is a step in the right direction, it is important to note that even if passed, it is unable to act as an all-encompassing protection from privacy violations.
SJR27 should definitely be supported by civil liberties advocates, but it alone won't be enough to protect the privacy rights of Missouri residents from federal encroachment,” said Shane Trejo, National Campaign Lead for the OffNow Coalition. “It needs to be looked at as a measure that can raise awareness and blaze the trail for stronger legislation being passed at a later date.
SJR27 is just one of the many examples of state legislation designed to create greater privacy protections for residents. In states such as Maine and Montana, legislatures are introducing bills to ban warrantless cell phone tracking. States such as Illinois and Washington are making moves to set privacy safeguards up against drones. But what is arguably, the strongest form of legislation available to protect privacy rights is the Fourth Amendment Protection Act. Created and sponsored by the OffNow Coalition, this legislation is a comprehensive approach to standing up to the National Security Agency (NSA). This legislation would deny all compliance and material support to the NSA for its illegal spying program, cutting off state resources used by the agency for its operations. Legislation that cuts off state ties to the NSA appears to be the most feasible and comprehensive way of restricting the NSA’s unjust practices.
The federal intelligence agencies have been relentless in their pursuit of electronic data and while the Obama administration has been speaking of some reform, it remains likely that the proposals will not go far enough. According to activists like Trejo, it will be up to states like Missouri, to offer legal protection for citizens’ privacy.
Generally, the federal government does not want to reform themselves. Any
time and effort spent lobbying the federal government to regulate itself
is almost guaranteed to be a waste of time. With a few notable exceptions
such as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), the feds have
no desire to get their act together. The NSA revelations have actually
made them ramp up their unconstitutional behavior and work more feverishly
to implement it. Activists should focus all of their time and energy on
the local and state levels of government. Our best chance at reform is to
circumvent Washington DC completely and take matters into our own hands
to defend civil liberties at the state and local levels.