Constitutional Amendment No. 9 is one of five statewide ballot initiatives awaiting voters who go to the polls for the Aug. 5 primary elections next Tuesday.
All five of the amendments were explained by state lawmakers during last week’s watermelon feed hosted annually by Newton County Republicans in Neosho’s Big Spring Park, and this is the last in series to provide those explanations to readers.
The ballot language for Amendment No. 9 reads: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended so that the people shall be secure in their electronic communications and data from unreasonable searches and seizures as they are now likewise secure in their persons, homes, papers and effects? State and local governmental entities expect no significant costs or savings.”
State Rep. Bill White, Dist. 161, Joplin, said the measure is similar to the 4th Amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights, amending the state Constitution’s Article 1, Section 15.
“It says the people of Missouri will be secure in their persons, their writings, their homes and their effects, from unreasonable search and seizure,” he said. “The only way the government can do that search and seizure is with specificity of what they are going after and probable cause; which they take in front of a judge and get a search warrant.”
He explained that approving the amendment adds electronic communications and data to the list of protected personal resources. White said a ‘no’ vote would keep the status quo, which means their protection is uncertain.
“I am sure that the Founding Fathers back in 1777 when they drafted Amendment Four, or when our state came into being and our state Constitution was drafted, if we would have had computers, electronic data, cellphones, they would have been included with writings and personal effects. I firmly believe that.”
White said that some feel the amendment is not needed, but he disagrees.
“The Supreme Court of the United States last month had to make a ruling that indeed data on a cellphone has to have a search warrant,” he said. “Law enforcement cannot start going through your cellphone. That’s important.”
He discussed the NSA (National Security Administration) scandal and explained that some in attendance may have unknowingly had their phone conversations overseas analyzed and listened to.
“And we have some appellate jurisdictions, I’m a little concerned about how concerned their interpretations of our existing Constitution will be,” he said.
White said even those who are not guilty of any wrongdoing should be concerned. He warned, “Remember the federal abuses and harassment of conservative groups that have done no criminal activity and the government had no probable cause to harass. Think about the personal communications that are not criminal that might be taken by the government and either ‘accidentally’ released or accessed through a Freedom of Information Act (request) that can destroy a career, it can destroy a life, it can destroy a family, and again, non-criminal.”
White argued against the idea that the amendment will harm law enforcement efforts, and reiterated that probable cause and specificity are necessary to gain a search warrant to go through your personal effects.
“How many of you out there have done an email?” he asked. “How many of you have Skyped? How many of you use your cellphone? How many of you keep your data and personal information for your business or your home on your computer?
“If you have it in writing or the old-fashioned ledger book, guess what, it is protected under our Constitution specifically; it’s writing. If you have your cellphone or your computer it may depend on the courts. This amendment will make it clear they are protected.”
To those who argue that the language is ambiguous, White answered that it is just like the language already in the Constitution that it would amend, and is very similar to that in the Amendment four of the U.S. Constitution.
“So if it is overbroad and too general, then our Constitution and our 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution is overbroad and general,” he said. “Data is the new pen and paper.”