by Scott McClallen
Michigan voters will see a question on the Nov. 3 ballot asking whether police should need a warrant to search electronic data.
The federal and state Constitution protects against unreasonable search and seizure of people’s “houses, papers, and effects” without a warrant.
The Senate and House unanimously approved Senate Joint Resolution G to clarify that electronic data and communication are also protected items.
Resolution sponsor Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, said in a statement it’s “a historic step toward protecting the privacy rights of Michiganders for generations to come. We now have the opportunity to make Michigan a national leader in personal privacy protection.”
Runestad’s chief of staff, Adam Stacey, told The Center Square that the resolution applies broadly to state government power for “any form of future technology, device or manner of collecting information” without consent.
Other states have already taken this step.
“Americans shouldn’t be forced to choose between using new technologies and protecting their privacy,” Runestad said. “It is long past time that our state extends the same basic protections to our electronic data that have existed for our paper data for centuries,” he added.
“While we can’t predict what technological advances will come next, this amendment guarantees that our personal data is secure from state overreach,” Runestad said.
The Michigan State Police and the Michigan Sheriffs Association didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Karen Gullo, a senior media relations specialist at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Center Square that law enforcement should obtain a warrant before accessing people’s electronic data and communications.
“The electronic data stored on our devices is a window into our entire lives – where we go, what we say to co-workers and friends, who our family is, where we bank and shop, what our personal documents say, and what our political beliefs are,” Gullo wrote in an email.
“People have a right to privacy over this intensely private, highly personal information, and if police want it, they should go to court and explain to a judge why.”
Gullo added: “In a unanimous decision by Chief Justice [John] Roberts in the 2014 case, the court wrote, ‘Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple – get a warrant.’”
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org.