Several states are in the process of considering legislation that would require a warrant for law enforcement to track an individual’s location based on their cellphone, social media and/or GPS devices, but Montana has officially become the first state in the country to enact such a law.
According to the ACLU, even the public policy director of the state’s chapter of the advocacy organization was surprised that Montana was first.
“Perhaps Montanans, known for their love of freedom and privacy, intuitively understand how sensitive location information can be and how much where you go can reveal about who you are. (Are you going to gay bars, a mosque, a fundamentalist church, a gun store, an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting, a political protest?),” ACLU Advocacy & Policy Strategist Allie Bohm wrote.
Earlier this month, Maine was poised to be the first state to enact such a warrant requirement, but its legislation is currently on hold after a fiscal note was added, the ACLU reported.
In May, Texas’ legislature passed a similar bill, but the ACLU noted it too was stalled. Here’s what happened:
[...] despite a successful effort on the part of Rep. Hughes, Sen. Hinojosa, the ACLU of Texas, and the Texas Electronic Privacy Coalition to get location tracking legislation added as an amendment to another bill requiring a warrant for access to electronic communications content, a similar amendment was not added to the companion bill in the other chamber. With time running out in the legislative session, rather than conference the two bills, both chambers simply passed the amendment-less version. In bad news, that means that they left location tracking for next session (which in Texas is in 2015). In good news, Texas is the first state in the nation to provide protections for electronic communications content regardless of its age, and all of the foregoing about the importance of having a first state with a law on the books for other state legislators to look up to and model after applies here, too.
Cellphone searches are a completely different issue. In May, Florida ruled cellphone searches by law enforcement required a warrant. Whereas, a New Jersey bill recently proposed the opposite, suggesting police be allowed to search cellphones of people involved in accidents to see if the device might have been a factor.