Michigan House Votes to Protect Electronic Data

Nearly unanimous in support of prohibiting state cooperation with illegal federal searches and seizures

The Michigan House of Representatives recently passed a bill to protect personal electronic data, with nearly unanimous support.

The House Bill 4430 would “prohibit state agencies, local governments and their employees from assisting or providing material support to a federal agency in collecting electronic data or metadata concerning any person, except with a warrant (or under a legally recognized exception to a warrant) or with an individual’s informed consent.”

As people shift more and more of their personal information to digital devices and virtual storage, it is critical that electronic data and metadata receive the same constitutional privacy protection as homes, persons and any other personal property.

The need for protection has become greater in light of the apparent increase in federal surveillance. This measure, then, is an important step toward ensuring that Michiganders’ state government is not complicit in the illegal search or seizure of electronic personal information.

The bill’s definition of electronic data includes “information related to an electronic communication,” such as the contents, sender and recipients of an electronic communication, and the location or identity of the sender or recipients. “Metadata” would refer to details that describe the history or tracking of an electronic document, things that are generally not contained in the document’s text.

The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held that people are protected by the Fourth Amendment from unwarranted intrusions on their privacy by the government. It is well-established in law that these privacy protections may only be breached when the government has probable cause supported by a warrant issued by an objective magistrate. This measure would clarify that Michiganders have a property right to their electronic data and an expectation of privacy when they create and share it. Protecting that right, in this case, means setting a policy that agents of our state government will not assist federal agencies when they seek to violate it through illegal searches and seizures.

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