Smart Decision 2014: Amendment 9 - Electronic Communications

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COLUMBIA - One of the constitutional amendments Missourians will vote on August 5 would add electronic data communications to the list of items protected from search and seizure. 

See opposing arguments. See supporting arguments.

The ballot language states: "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?"

Under the amendment, investigators and law enforcement would need search warrants to gain access to a person's text messages, e-mails and any personal accounts. 

Such measures have become common throughout the United States, in part as a result of the disclosure of National Security Agency documents by Edward Snowden, sparking discussions of online and electronic privacy. 

Sen. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) sponsored the measure with Sen. Bob Dixon (R-Greene County) in the Missouri Senate. If approved, the measure will amend Section 15 of Article 1. 

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police cannot search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested without a warrant. However, the Missouri measure includes  laptops and communications rather than just cellphones.

SUPPORT FOR AMENDMENT NINE (See opposing arguments.)

Many groups have shown support for the measure, including Protect our Privacy, the ACLU of Missouri, the Consitution Party of Missouri and United for Missouri. In the Missouri House of Representatives, the measure received 114 "yes" votes and only 28 "no" votes. 

Rep. Paul Curtman (R-Pacific) helped shepherd the measure through the House. He said passing the amendment would be a big step, not only for the privacy of Missourians, but also for the rest of the country.

"I think it's important for the Missouri voters because I think that we have a state government that's not as mindful of the security of the people's data as maybe they need to be," Curtman said. "So it's good for Missouri citizens, but it's also going to be good to help send a message to the federal government and to other states that the people of Missouri and the people of other states are really speaking out on this and very much want the governments to respect our inherent rights to privacy and respect our reasonable expectation of privacy."

Curtman said the measure simply supports a basic right.

"One thing that Americans have in common is the value of our freedom and our privacy and right to privacy is definitely part of that."

In its voter guide on the measure, The League of Women Voters said, "Proponents say the amendment is a logical extension of existing protections from unwarranted searches and seizures. They believe electronic data should be protected as well. They say unless there is evidence of criminal activity, they have concerns about the increased tracking of cell phone information and other private electronic data."

OPPOSITION FOR AMENDMENT 9(See supporting arguments.)

While no organized opposition has formed against Amendment 9, some critics of the measure say it has drawbacks, especially when it comes to its impact on law enforcement. 

A member of the Boone County Sheriff's Department's Cyber Crimes Task Force said the bill's language could cause confusion as to what officers can legally search without a warrant. 

"From what I've kind of looked at, the wording on that, it's not going to effect us any, but the verbage, I believe, is electronic communication and it's kind of broad," Tracy Perkins, a sheriff's department detective, said. "So, those words, I mean, everybody has their own interpretation of what it means. So it could, if other people look at it differently. That's the only problem I see."

Perkins also said the amendment won't necessarily change anything because most officers already get search warrants before searching now. 

"Anything that has personal data on it, we automatically get a search warrant for that. Obviously, if we don't have the written permission from that owner or we have the search warrant. But we've been doing that ever since we've had the cyber crimes unit and most law enforcement are doing that, they're already adhering to that," Perkins said.