Exclusive Interview: Liberty Republican Setting the Standard for Electronic Privacy in Montana

Daniel Zolnikov, 28, a liberty-minded Republican State Representative in Montana is entering the 2015 legislative session with a list of bills that he hopes will set the standard for the nation, in terms of protecting Americans’ electronic privacy.

Zolnikov is currently a representative for the district of Billings, and he tells Benswann.com that in order to become part of the state legislature in Montana, it wasn’t about the amount of money he had to raise, it was about the time he had to spend knocking on doors and reaching out to the public.

During the 2013 legislative session, Zolnikov sponsored a bill that made Montana the first state in the nation to require a search warrant for cell phone location information. A couple of months after the bill was passed, Edward Snowden revealed the massive surveillance program the National Security Agency (NSA) was conducting.

Zolnikov recalls that it wasn’t until the Snowden leaks became a national story that other states followed Montana’s lead and began to enact digital privacy laws.

Even with that kind of accomplishment, there was no real success because now we know that the NSA is collecting all of your data and we’re in a very bad spot,” said Zolnikov. “It’s like one person versus a whole army sometimes.”

Entering the 2015 legislative session, Zolnikov tells Benswann.com that his main focus is on enacting “a whole new variety of legislation” that deals with protecting citizens’ electronic privacy and making the government follow the procedures that “have been in place for centuries.”

Zolnikov explained that one of the ways the U.S. Government is “ignoring the Fourth Amendment” and obtaining citizens’ electronic information without their knowledge is through a loophole called the third party doctrine. This doctrine states that if an individual sends an email through a server such as Google or Yahoo, the information loses the expectation of privacy when their digital communications use a “third party” to send it.

The third party doctrine allows for electronic spying and the stealing of electronic communication, because they say there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy,” said Zolnikov. “Most people don’t understand that.”

Another bill Zolnikov is sponsoring this session is a bill that would ban license plate readers in the state of Montana. He explained that this bill would prohibit the government from tracking citizens based on pictures of their license plates, and GPS and Bluetooth signals emitted from their phones.

As previously reported, the American Civil Liberties Union recently “revealed the existence of a national program operated by the Drug Enforcement Administration that collects and analyzes license plate information,” and has as many as “343 million records in the National License Plate Recognition program.”

Zolnikov tells Benswann.com that he is able to pass laws protecting electronic privacy in the state, due to the fact that “Montana is very liberty-minded.”

If we start passing these well put-together bills, other states will start following and passing them. Once other states start passing them, it puts pressure on Congress,” said Zolnikov. “I’d rather do something at the state level than complain that the Federal level is doing nothing.”