The PJ Tatler

Opponents of Fourth Amendment Protections Protest Too Much

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It should go without saying that Fourth Amendment protections extend to electronic communications and data. Why would we be secure in our “persons, houses, papers, and effects” but not our phones, tablets, laptops, and clouds? Yet, when the question has come before the courts, rulings have been inconsistent.

Seeking to bolster data privacy rights in Minnesota, state legislators have crafted a bill which would provide voters with the opportunity to amend the state constitution. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The heart of the amendment is just four words, proposing to add “electronic communications and data” to Section 10 of the state Constitution, which guarantees “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” If approved, the amendment would be placed on the 2016 November election ballot.

Opponents of bill, cognizant that opposing Fourth Amendment protections is bad politics, have taken to arguing that the proposed change is “unnecessary and redundant.”

Although the bill cleared its first House committee Tuesday, it faces a more significant hurdle in the Senate, where one instrumental leader says data privacy questions have already been resolved by the courts. Sen. Ron Latz, [Democrat]-St. Louis Park, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, refused to give the bill a hearing last month, saying he prefers to avoid legislating by constitutional amendment when he believes electronic data is already protected.

“I never shut the door completely on things, but my inclination right now is we have enough heavy lifting on our plate this legislative session in terms of real policy changes,” Latz said. “To take our limited time that we have on something which, from my perspective, is unnecessary and redundant would not be a wise use of our public resources.

Latz makes it sound like he and his senate colleagues would be digging the Panama Canal by hand. How many “resources” does it take to pass a simple non-controversial bill providing voters with an option to bolster their protections? What could possibly be more important than protecting citizen’s fundamental rights? Isn’t that what government exists to do?

Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, pointed out that [relevant] cases [the ACLU] referenced are ones where the Supreme Court said a warrant is necessary to search electronic data.

“I get concerned about amending our constitution to clarify things that the courts are already doing,” he said. “I think we need to be careful about that sort of thing.”

Why? What’s the danger? Are we going to be too secure? Will the courts feelings get hurt?

These are feeble arguments which fail to justify the continued obstruction of this bill. Folks like Latz are expending more “resources” opposing Fourth Amendment protections than it would take to passively allow their passage.

The question is why.

(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)