Montana Becomes First State To Pass Law Protecting Journalists’ Electronic Privacy

Last week, Montana became the first state to include a provision in its Media Confidentiality Act that protected journalists’ electronic communications from the government when Governor Steve Bullock signed a bill “prohibiting disclosure of media info from electronic communications services.”

HB 207 was authored by Daniel Zolnikov, a Liberty-minded Republican representative from Billings, and was created to close a loophole in the existing law that gave government entities access to journalists’ electronic communications through third party providers.

Zolnikov tells that his bill ensures that journalists in Montana can use modern technology to safely and securely report important news, by protecting their electronic communications from government intrusion.

“A free press is vital to government transparency and accountability,” Zolnikov said. “This bill is a perfect example of how we can maintain our constitutional rights as technology advances.”

The text of the bill states that it both prohibits “governmental bodies from questing or requiring the disclosure of privileged news media information from services that transmit electronic communications,” and prohibits “an electronic communication service from being adjudged in contempt” if that service “refuses to disclose certain information.”

Zolnikov tells that he created the bill to help Montana set the precedent at the state level for the rest of the nation.

Freedom of the press is one of the most crucial rights contained in the First Amendment,” Zolnikov said. “The federal government has cracked down on whistleblowers and journalists in the past few years, and many have said this has a ‘chilling effect’ on news reporting.”

As previously reported, HB 207 is one of several bills Zolnikov has sponsored that promotes the protection of Americans’ electronic privacy. One bill that was sponsored by Zolnikov, which made Montana the first state in the nation to require a search warrant for cell phone location information, was passed during the 2013 legislative session, just months before Edward Snowden revealed the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance program.