Privacy advocates, behold the Montana legislature and House Bill 603, a measure that requires the government to obtain a probable cause warrant before spying on you through your cell phone or laptop. HB 603 was signed into law this past spring, effectively making Montana the first state to have an anti-spy law long before anyone heard of Edward Snowden. To be clear, HB 603 passed the state Senate overwhelmingly by a vote of 96-4 in April and was signed into law on May 6. That's almost one month to the day when we first found out about the NSA's secret order to collect phone records from Verizon, which has since ballooned into a world-wide scandal and chase. "The NSA reports hadn’t even come out at that time," said one of the law's supporters to the news website The Daily Interlake.
That we didn't find out about the extensive NSA spying and Edward Snowden until June, is probably the reason HB 603 passed without much fanfare in the spring. At the time, the law might have seemed extraneous, or even paranoid. But knowing what we know now, the law seems prophetic (not unlike the way Shia LaBeouf warned us about spying back in 2008) and is getting some new-found attention. The law is pretty straightforward—the government can't spy on Montanans through their electronic devices unless they obtain a warrant:
And "electronic device" is meant to encompass laptops, cell phones and tablets:
That effectively makes Montana the first state in the country's history to pass an electronic privacy law that protects you from the government. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, and Montana's lawmakers outpaced all the states in the country when it comes to privacy—Texas signed an email privacy bill into law last month, and Massachusetts and a handful of other states are considering their own privacy laws when it comes to electronic surveillance and wiretapping.
"The younger Democrats and Republicans were the ones really for the bill. The older legislators in Helena didn’t say much for or against it," Zolnikov told the Daily Interlake. Zolnikov actually wanted a harsher bill that would have limited federal authority. "This is very small compared to what we want to accomplish," he added.