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Lawmaker Proposes Bill to Protect Journalists’ Electronic Information

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A bill introduced in Montana’s House Judiciary Committee on Thursday would prevent state government agencies from using companies such as Google and Yahoo to obtain a Journalist’s sources and information.

The Associated Press reported that “no one spoke in opposition to the bill,” which would prohibit all state government officials from “asking for a member of the media’s emails or other electronic communications from companies that store that information.”

Representative Daniel Zolnikov, a Republican from Billings, Montana, proposed the bill. He claimed he is not looking to change the existing law; rather he wants to close a loophole in the current law.

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“My bill does not change existing law, but adds to it based on a new age of digital communications,” said Zolnikov. He explained that the existing media shield law does not protect a reporter’s emails or other electronic information that might be stored on the servers of Gmail, Yahoo or Outlook.

According to Courthouse News, after proposing a bill in 2013 that was later labeled “anti-business,” but would have “given consumers control over their personal data and prevented companies from reselling it behind their backs,” Zolnikov is “no stranger to privacy issues.”

The Associated Press reported that this bill is one of several Zolnikov is sponsoring to “protect privacy rights in the state.” His other proposed bills would secure privacy for the citizens of Montana by banning license plate readers in the state and by prohibiting state officials from gathering electronic data without a warrant.

On his website, Zolnikov wrote that after seeing “unprecedented attacks on the rights of the press in recent years at the federal level,” he felt it was best to show support for reporters by starting at the state level.

Freedom of the press is one of the most crucial rights contained in the First Amendment,” wrote Zolnikov. “We can’t change the Federal Government’s attitude towards the important of the reporter’s privilege, but we can strengthen Montana’s shield laws.

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