JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – In August, Missouri voters will have an opportunity to reject significant parts of mass surveillance programs by both the state and federal governments.
Introduced by Sen. Rob Schaaf, Senate Joint Resolution 27 (SJR27) passed the legislature last month with just a handful of dissenting votes. Because it is a proposal for a state constitutional amendment, it will now bypass the Governor’s desk, instead going directly to the People on the ballot this August.
When proponents of mass, warrantless surveillance are backed into a corner on the basis that such activities violate the 4th Amendment’s warrant requirements, they often make the claim that electronic data is outside the scope of the amendment because it doesn’t qualify as “persons, houses, papers, or effects.”
Instead of worrying about a long legal debate with opponents who likely hold a political agenda, the Missouri legislature took a different path. They passed legislation to expressly give “electronic data and communications” the same state constitutional protections as “persons, homes, papers and effects.”
The text of SJR27 is short and concise, replacing the “privacy rights” section in the state constitution with the following language adding electronic communications to the objects protected from search or seizure without a warrant.
“That the people shall be secure in their persons, papers, homes [and], effects, and electronic communications and data, from unreasonable searches and seizures; and no warrant to search any place, or seize any person or thing, or access electronic data or communication, shall issue without describing the place to be searched, or the person or thing to be seized, or the data or communication to be accessed, as nearly as may be; nor without probable cause, supported by written oath or affirmation.”
The effect of this resolution would be significant. The addition of electronic communications to the list of privacy items would make emails, phone records, Internet records and other electronic information gathered without a warrant inadmissible in state court. That would include data gathered illegally by overzealous state and local law enforcement as well as the federal government.
OffNow coalition spokesman Shane Trejo welcomed the progress that SJR27 represents in the on-going battle against warrantless spying.
“While Missouri might not be able to physically stop the NSA and other federal agencies from collecting our data without a warrant, legislation such as this can significantly reduce the practical effect of what they are trying to do with it. Compliance with the NSA’s illegal spying program would be illegal in Missouri if this is passed, and that is no small feat,” he said.
SJR27 addresses one aspect of OffNow’s campaign to thwart NSA spying at the state and local level – data sharing.
As Reuters reported in August, 2013, the secretive Special Operations Division (SOD) is “funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.”
Documents obtained by Reuters show that these cases “rarely involve national security issues,” and that local law enforcement is directed by SOD to “conceal how such investigations truly begin.”
Reports in the Washington Post and USA Today last fall documented how “the FBI and most other investigative bodies in the federal government” are regularly using a mobile device known as a “stingray” to intercept and collect electronic data without a warrant. Local and state police “have access through sharing agreements.”
SJR27 will now move to the August 5th Primary ballot, where approval by a majority vote of the people will make it a part of the state constitution and give it legal force.