Daniel Zolnikov

Daniel Zolnikov. Photo Credit: DanielZolnikov.com

A 26-year-old Montana state legislator is gaining nationwide attention as a defender of privacy after pushing for the passage of a historic cell phone warrant law that other states are now considering.

Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, a Republican representing the 47th House district of Montana, was profiled over the weekend by Mashable.com, which described him as “the face of online privacy rights in the U.S.

It all started with Montana House Bill 603, which passed in April and was signed into law by Gov.  Steve Bullock on May 6. The law reads: “A government entity may not obtain the location information of an electronic device without a search warrant issued by a duly authorized court.”

The legislation and Zolnikov were reported on in The Wall Street Journal in June. An Atlantic Wire headline in July read, “If You Don’t Want the Goverment to Spy on You, Move to Montana.” He also has been heralded by the American Civil Liberties Union. And most recently, he gave a talk at the hackers conference Def Con on Saturday, Mashable reports.

“It paved the way for Maine to pass similar legislation, and courts around the country have ruled that law enforcement needs a search warrant when requesting phone companies release customers’ location data,” the Mashable article said. “At the federal level, the issue isn’t yet regulated. And in several criminal cases, the Department of Justice has argued that there’s no expectation of privacy on location data, since the customer surrenders his or her data to the telephone company — the so-called “third-party” doctrine.”

Zolnikov’s self described “pro-rights” view comes from understanding his family background. His grandparents moved to Iran to escape Russia after the rise of communism, according to the tech publication Mashable, published Sunday. His Iranian-born father later moved to the United States.

“Protecting people’s rights is bad? Well then, I guess I’ll be bad,” Zolnikov told Mashable.

Zolnikov, like any politician, has sought to leverage the national media attention to raise money for his campaign.

“In a time of national data collection and spying and American’s, states must start legislating policies to protect our rights,” Zolnikov said on his campaign website. “Please help me get re-elected so I can continue to fight for privacy rights. Please consider making a contribution below to help the campaign reach out to as many voters as possible.”

All the praise aside, his original proposal was more far reaching.

The first bill, House Bill 400, “was a data protection bill that had the goal of giving consumers the control over their personal data. The bill gave citizens the right to consent to companies collecting their personal data to prevent them from reselling it behind consumers’ backs, a business that’s somewhat conducted in secret,” Mashable reports. However the legislation “never got out of committee. Mainly because the business lobby, including big retailers, insurers, and bankers, didn’t like it, labeling it as anti-business.”

After that bill died, Montana state Sen. Anders Blewett approached him with the idea of the cellphone location data limitations, which passed both houses with broad bipartisan support.

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