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Montana Working To Protect Electronic Privacy Amid Spying Allegations

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Congress is looking to limit the National Security Agency after new allegations the agency is spying on people across the globe, including 35 world leaders.

But Montana is already ahead of the curve.

State Representative Daniel Zolnikov from Billings wanted to stop the government from collecting electronic information.

"The one that we passed was HB 603," said Zolnikov It requires search warrants to get cell phone information."

House Bill 603 requires a search warrant for the collection of location data from people's electronic devices.

The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers in the last legislative session.

This made Montana the first state protecting its citizen's electronic privacy.

"No one really thought it was a big deal, going "why do we need this?" "Yeah I have a cell phone, why is this an important bill?" Because all their cell phone data is being collected, all your cell phone location information, your texts, your calls, everything," said Zolnikov.

A month later, Edward Snowden disclosed documents to British newspaper "The Guardian" about the government agency, the National Security Administration. The documents say the N.S.A. was collecting call data from many Americans. 

Bullock said while the N.S.A. spying on unsuspecting people is unfortunate, it is no surprise Montana is ahead of the curve.

"We are often leaders in a number of different ways, not only protecting individual rights, protecting privacy, protecting a number of things," said Bullock.  "So it was no surprise Montana was there."

Montana is also leading the way on the national level.

Now there are claims the N.S.A. was also spying across the globe, including Brazil's President Dilma Rouseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both countries are American allies.

The claims have sparked calls for the government to roll back surveillance programs.

Montana Senator Jon Tester is hoping to do that with a new bill he is co-sponsoring.

"This is an issue I hear about it every time I come home to Montana," said Tester. "Folks are concerned about it. This is a bill whose time has come, in fact it should've been passed years ago."

The U.S.A. Freedom Act would restrict government data collection to specific terrorist suspects.

Zolnikov and Bullock agree Montana itself needs an even tougher law.

"Oh I will have much tougher legislation coming up," Zolnikov said. "We're already starting the creation process. It's not going to be tougher actually. It is going to be simple." 

"I think we will have to, and we look every legislative session, to see where improvements can be made and others," said Bullock.

Zolnikov originally had a tougher law, but didn't have the support to pass.

"We wanted to get that information and put it out there that information belongs to you, for anyone to obtain it they need to consent," said Zolnikov. "It caused a big controversy and fell apart. It didn't pass out of committee." 

Under House Bill 603, the government can only track the location services on your phone in Montana if you report it stolen, to respond to emergency services, if you say the government can track your phone, or if there is an immediate life threatening situation.

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