Hands off our iPads! Bill would require warrants for electronic searches

Rep. Daniel Zolnikov believes privacy protection is critical in the digital age. (Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service)

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police may not search the contents of a cell phone without a warrant in the United States.

Republican state Rep. Daniel Zolnikov of Billings is sponsoring a bill that would  extend that rule in Montana to any other device, like a laptop, iPad, or smartwatch.

“Right now our devices store more personal information than our houses do,” he said Thursday. “And since the Fourth Amendment does not seem to protect electronic devices and electronic communications, that it is my job to ensure that these safeguards are in place.”

House Bill 147 will provide exceptions to the rule – for instance, if a life is in danger, the owner gives consent, or the owner has disclosed the information publicly.

“The reason I want this in state code and state law is so people know what the process is, it just makes it a lot more transparent,” Zolnikov said.

The House Judiciary Committee will hear HB 147 Friday morning.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.