House Bill 603 requires any government to get a probable cause-based warrant before anyone’s electronic devices can be spied on. The law passed the Montana State Senate in April and was signed into law in May. It never really made any headlines, because it was all done before anyone heard the name Edward Snowden. I mean, most of us knew that the government was spying on everybody, but that was all a conspiracy theory until the media admitted it and then tried justifying it on “national security” grounds. So, H.B. 603 has been Montana law for several weeks now. Here’s what the law states:
Section 1. Location information privacy — civil penalty. (1) Except as provided in subsection (2), a government entity may not obtain the location information of an electronic device without a search warrant issued by a duly authorized court.
(1) “Electronic communication service” means a service that provides to users of the service the ability to send or receive wire or electronic communications.
(2) “Electronic device” means a device that enables access to or use of an electronic communication service, remote computing service, or location information service.
So, basically, cell phones, laptops and tablets are off limits from the government’s nosy ears. Unless, of course, they obtain a warrant. And yes, there are a few other exceptions listed in subsection (2). They can track your location if any of these conditions is met:
(a) the device is reported stolen by the owner; (b) in order to respond to the user’s call for emergency services; (c) with the informed, affirmative consent of the owner or user of the electronic device; or (d) there exists a possible life-threatening situation.
(3) Any evidence obtained in violation of this section is not admissible in a civil, criminal, or administrative proceeding and may not be used in an affidavit of probable cause in an effort to obtain a search warrant. (4) A violation of this section will result in a civil fine not to exceed $50.
Will the NSA even care about Montana’s new law? Probably not. They can do whatever they want, and they’ll even claim that they’re within the state law’s limits under subsection (2)(d). They’ll claim that there exists a “possible” life-threatening situation with the possibility of a terrorist attack. I’m sure the Department of Justice will sue Montana on the grounds that it is “obstructing” their investigation of Montanans.
But at least it’s something. What we need are laws like this except with real teeth and state representatives and governors who will stand their ground against the feds.