HELENA — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Bohlinger said Tuesday he will also use his campaign to lead an effort to add digital privacy protections to the Montana Constitution.
Bohlinger said civil rights are threatened by warrantless invasions by the federal National Security Agency. He wants to expand constitutional restrictions on warrantless searches to cover digital communications.
The former Republican lieutenant governor and state senator, who switched parties to run for the Senate, said his effort would send a message to federal agencies even if the Montana Constitution would not bind them.
It takes nearly 50,000 signatures from registered voters to change the Constitution. Bohlinger said he will lead the signature-gathering effort as he runs against Lt. Gov. John Walsh in the Democratic primary.
The announcement came a day after many Silicon Valley leaders escalated pressure on President Barack Obama to curb U.S. government surveillance programs that vacuum personal information off the Internet and threaten the technology industry's financial livelihood.
Bohlinger said the initiative campaign will help drive interest in his Senate bid. He expects to start gathering signatures early next year, and submitted proposed language to the Montana secretary of state.
"This is not the focal point of my campaign. It is just one of the issues we will bring forward," Bohlinger said.
The Walsh campaign said the current lieutenant governor and former National Guard commander backed state legislation earlier this year to require local governments to get warrants for cell phone information. Walsh said in a statement that "no government has business spying on the lives of law-abiding Montanans."
He said the nation can be kept safe without "warrantless prying."
Bohlinger said he wants Montana to lead the nation in protecting electronic communications from government spies.
The Bohlinger campaign said that it would not establish a separate initiative campaign, which can raise unlimited sums of money. It said the campaign would be run out of the Senate bid coffers under federal donation limits.
The campaign said it will reject PAC funding during the primary.