Show Me State to Let Residents Decide if Law Enforcement Can Look at Emails without a Warrant

Here is yet more evidence of hostility to the surveillance state. In my home state of Missouri residents will be able to vote to “amend” the Fourth Amendment at the state constitution level.

From the Daily Caller:

Missouri voters have a potentially precedent-setting decision to make when they head to the primary ballot box this summer, and it has nothing to do with candidates for office.

Republicans state Sen. Rob Schaaf and Rep. Paul Curtman will give Missourians a chance to weigh in on the national conversation about government surveillance with a ballot attached to the Aug. 5 primary that asks whether the government should have permission to access electronic communications without search warrants.

According to Riverfront Times, the ballot will ask, ”Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended so that the people shall be secure in their electronic communications and data from unreasonable searches and seizures as they are now likewise secure in their persons, homes, papers and effects?”

The question seeks to address one of the major focal points of the argument sparked by the leaks of National Security Agency bulk surveillance programs by former agency contractor Edward Snowden: What exactly does the Fourth Amendment guarantee in the age of digital communications?

Missouri lawmakers described the amendment as “a direct response to revelations about the scope and nature of the NSA’s domestic spying programs.”

I suppose it is possible that the “amendment” might be defeated, which would be horrible. But I doubt that will happen. I think it is wonderful that voters get to address this issue.

But I do have one quibble.

This “amendment” doesn’t actually amend the fourth of the Bill of Rights. Instead, it expresses the plain meaning of its words as applied in modern life.

It would be awful if, some day, government lawyers argued that the need to add “electronic communications and data” in Missouri proved that the intent of the original Fourth Amendment in the Constitution did not apply to electronic communications and data.

I guess we will cross that bridge when we come to it. But for the record, I love this proposal not as an amendment to the actual Fourth Amendment but rather as a legally binding acknowledgment of the real meaning of the amendment.