Iowa House backs amendment to protect digital privacy

Bill would change Constitution to shield emails, texts, data from warrantless searches

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DES MOINES — A proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution to protect emails, texts and data from warrantless search and seizure was approved unanimously by the Iowa House on Thursday, but may not get the same support in the Senate.

The resolution calls for updating the state Constitution in light of new technology, said Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Cedar Rapids, the bill’s sponsor.

“When the founders of our country and state included search and seizure protections in their 18th and 19th century constitutions, they intended to protect citizens from government reading personal mail or going through personal files without a warrant,” he said. “In the 21st century, Iowans shouldn’t be forced to choose between using new technologies and protecting their privacy.”

Representatives voted 96-0 to send the resolution to the Senate, where Judiciary Chairman Steve Sodders, D-State Center, isn’t sure it’s needed.

“I think he’s chasing a problem that might not be there,” Sodders said.

A Marshall County deputy sheriff, Sodders said warrants already are required for law enforcement to retrieve information from mobile phones and other devices.

“My experience is we have to get search warrants for everything,” he said.

If phones are seized as evidence in, for example, child pornography or drug arrests, Sodders said he needs “either language within the current warrant, or I have to stop and get another warrant specifically saying that we can go in there and capture that information and download that information.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, withheld judgment.

“Many things are interesting inside the context of our own borders,” he said. “There are lots of issues that invite national solutions.”

However, Rizer thinks “gaping gaps” in the law allow the government to access emails, personal files and data stored on mobile devices, in the cloud and on servers.

The amendment, which would have to be approved by both chambers of the Legislature twice as well as by voters, would fill those gaps to ensure “that government cannot access private emails or data without a warrant,” Rizer said.

The legislation is similar to constitutional amendments approved by voters in Florida, Illinois and Missouri, he said.

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