Guest opinion: Legislation needed to protect Montanans' privacy rights

2013-07-29T00:00:00Z 2014-01-06T14:38:09Z Guest opinion: Legislation needed to protect Montanans' privacy rightsBy DANIEL ZOLNIKOV The Billings Gazette
July 29, 2013 12:00 am  • 

We take privacy for granted. Too often we mistakenly assume that we are the only ones privy to our personal information. We assume it is within our discretion to decide who has access to the most intimate details of our personal lives — unfortunately, as the latest headlines have shown, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The National Security Agency has implemented policies undermining the expectation of privacy that every American assumes they have. After the PRISM program came to light, it is obvious that Americans no longer have any privacy from their government. The administration has chosen to accost the original informant and even acclaimed members of our press, rather than address the issue at hand: the right of Americans to lead a private life without government intrusion and surveillance.

Preserving our national security has always come at a cost, but the feeling of security should never be used as a justification for the degradation of individual liberty. Benjamin Franklin said it best, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Privacy from government intrusion is key to Franklin’s liberty.

Warrants for cellphone info

During the 2013 legislative session I introduced HB603, a bill signed into law that restricts law enforcement officials from using cellphone location information obtained from third party providers without first obtaining a warrant. My bill was a bipartisan effort by Republicans and Democrats who worked together to protect Montanans from undue government overreach and unwarranted surveillance.

Another piece of legislation I sponsored during the legislative session was HB400, a bill to create a data privacy act to protect Montanans by preventing companies and government agencies from obtaining our personal information without our consent. As it stands, there is no law to protect Montanans from having our personal data sold without our consent. For example, remember the prescription that you had filled at the local pharmacy? The one where they ask for your phone number, address and date of birth before filling? All of that personal data, and much more, is available for purchase to the highest bidder for whatever use the purchasing organization sees fit.

Selling personal information

HB400 would have solved this problem by enabling individuals to choose whether or not their information could be resold to third-party vendors. Was this bill considered far reaching? Yes. And that was exactly the point.

Our personal information, even if held by a third-party provider, is our own private information, and the control and access of that information must remain with the individual.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong supporter of lowering taxes and removing overburdening regulations to promote a more business friendly environment in Montana, but the lack of policy concerning individual privacy is beyond acceptable.

To a typical Montanan, this type of legislation would seem to be common sense and in the best interest of Montanans. Some politicians in Helena, more concerned about their re-election than representing constituents, thought differently. Lobbyists and special interest groups rallied against HB400 because they decided that obtaining our information without consent and selling it for a nice profit was more important than protecting Montanans and their private information.

As sad as it seems, we are living in a time when our rights are no longer guaranteed but must instead be legislated. It is my hope that more of our elected officials will join me in working to ensure the fundamental right of privacy for all Montanans.

Republican Daniel Zolnikov represents House District 47 in the Billings Heights.

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