Missouri Voters will Decide if Phone and Email Privacy Should be Added to State Constitution

Monday, July 28, 2014
(graphic: Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Soon, Missouri residents might be able to say “Show me a warrant” when asked by law enforcement to produce their cell phone or other electronic devices.


Both houses of the state’s legislature voted to put a proposed Amendment 9 (pdf) on Missouri’s Aug. 5 ballot that reads: “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 proposal has broad support from both sides of the aisle as well as from civil liberties groups. “Our founding fathers understood that privacy is important,” Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “In the same way that our government shouldn’t be able to look at our snail mail without a warrant, the government shouldn’t be able to look through our email without a warrant.”


The bill has “national implication,” Michael Maharrey, national communications director of the Tenth Amendment Center, said in a press release. “We have the potential to blanket the country with constitutional provisions specifically extending privacy protection to electronic information and data. This would ensure state-level respect for privacy rights and address a practical effect of federal spying, regardless of how things play out in Congress or in federal courts.”


The amendment received only one “no” vote in the Missouri Senate. That came from Democrat Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who said she was concerned that its wording was too broad and wouldn’t allow police enough latitude in investigating such crimes as child pornography. However, Mittman pointed out that there is still a time-tested way to obtain the information: get a warrant.


The measure comes shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that privacy protections extend to cellphones throughout the country. “Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court.


One of the sponsors of Missouri’s proposal, Republican Rep. Rob Schaaf pointed out that the state’s broader amendment is needed because the Supreme Court ruling applies only to cellphones, so it arguably wouldn’t protect a driver from a no-warrant police search of his onboard satellite navigation system, personal digital pads, tablets or other electronic devices.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Proposed Missouri Amendment Would Extend Privacy Protection To Cell Phones, Email (by Kevin McDermott, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Missouri to Vote on Adding Phone, Email Privacy to State Constitution (by Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams)

Supreme Court, In Unanimous Ruling, Says Police Need Warrant to Search Cell Phones (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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