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Montana passes electronic data privacy ballot measure

Electronic privacy
Posted at 1:49 AM, Nov 09, 2022

HELENA — Montanans appear to have passed a ballot measure that will make state and local governments obtain a warrant in order to access private electronic data and communications.

Unofficial results showed Montana voters overwhelmingly favoring Constitutional Amendment 48 by a margin of 82% to 18% with 339,772 votes counted as of 1:40 a.m. Wednesday.

The measure changes just 11 words in the Montana Constitution, but they’re focused on a big topic: the use of people’s electronic data.

C-48 specifically add “electronic data and communications” in a list of items protected from unreasonable search and seizure. Supporters say that could include emails, chat messages and much more.

Currently, Article II, Section 11 of the state constitution reads:

“The people shall be secure in their persons, papers, homes and effects from unreasonable searches and seizures. No warrant to search any place, or seize any person or thing shall issue without describing the place to be searched or the person or thing to be seized, or without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation reduced to writing.”

C-48 would update that language to:

“The people shall be secure in their persons, papers, electronic data and communications, homes, and effects from unreasonable searches and seizures. No warrant to search any place, to seize any person or thing, or to access electronic data or communications shall issue without describing the place to be searched or the person or thing to be seized, or without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation reduced to writing."

Opponents of the measure said it wasn’t needed since, in most cases, state law already requires a warrant before government entities can get data off an electronic device. However, there are exceptions if the owner consents and in certain emergency situations.