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State legislature considering resolution to protect electronic privacy

May 11, 2017

The Michigan House of Representatives is expected to vote next week on a joint resolution intended to bring Michigan's constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures in line with modern technology.

The resolution would amend the state constitution to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before searching a person's electronic communications or electronic data.

The Michigan constitution currently requires the government to get a search warrant before searching an individual's home, person or possessions.  

But supporters of the resolution say the law is not keeping up with technology.

Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, who introduced the resolution, said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government must obtain a warrant to search a person's cell phone in connection with an arrest or to use a GPS tracking device. 

"But with technology, it's constantly changing to the point where we can't adjudicate every single variation of every technology up to the Supreme Court, and in the meantime violate everyone's rights" said Runestad.

Runestad said this is a serious matter because the federal government is disbursing  sophisticated, military grade equipment with the capacity to watch citizens to local law enforcement agencies.

"This stuff can be so intrusive if there isn't proper guidelines and restrictions put in place," said Runestad. "My concern is that if we don't, as a society, start drawing some red lines against what law enforcement can do, we could end in a society that's like the Stasi in East Germany, where no one had any rights of privacy. You had to hope to go into a field and whisper to someone to even have a private conversation. We simply, as a society, I don't believe are going to accept that."

According to Runestad, Missouri modified its Constitutition in the same way as the one proposed in Michigan. It passed in Missouri by an overwhelming vote in the state legislature and by 75% of state voters in 2014.

Runestad said the Missouri State Police indicates it has not experienced any difficulties with its ability to fight cybercrime as a result of Missouri's requiring search warrants for electronic data and communications.

Runestad is optimistic the resolution to amend Michigan's constitution will pass in the Michigan House. If it also passes in the Senate, it will then go on the state-wide ballot for decision by the voters in 2018.