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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Senators Hear Digital Privacy Bills At Montana Legislature

Kalispell Regional Healthcare (KRH) announced Tuesday that an email data breach this summer may have exposed the personal and private healthcare information of nearly 130,000 of its patients.

A pair of bills intended to increase privacy in the digital age are making their way through the Montana legislature. They were each heard today in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will vote on them later.

The first (House Bill 444) would make police get a warrant in order to force a communications provider to disclose text messages or emails. Niki Zupanic with the American Civil Liberties Union says current law is inadequate.

"Almost all of us use the Internet, email, or electronic communications in one form or another. There is a dearth of protections on the federal level or through case law. This bill would provide that."

Prosecutors oppose the requirement. Ole Olson with the Montana Department of Justice says the new regulations are not needed, because investigators already get warrants in these cases.

"I deal with this issue a lot. And I want to tell you unambiguously, we get warrants to get content from third parties in Montana. The reason we do that is because federal law already governs this, and requires us to do so."

A companion measure (House Bill 445) would make police get a warrant before they could search through a cell phone or other electronic device. Both bills were written by Representative Daniel Zolnikov, a Republican from Billings.

Despite opposition from law enforcement, both bills passed the House in February by wide margins.

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