Update eyed for digital data privacy to constitution

Published 9:49 am Tuesday, February 17, 2015

By David Montgomery

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — Pick another issue — maybe any other issue — and they’d be at each other’s throats.

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But on Monday, the Minnesota Tea Party Alliance shared a stage with Occupy Minnesota, with the American Civil Liberties Union and an anti-Affordable Care Act advocacy group, with liberal DFLers and conservative Republicans. These unnatural allies agreed on one thing: limiting the ability of government to access electronic data.

“There won’t be many opportunities for you to see a group this ideologically diverse and bipartisan,” said Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover.

Petersen, a Republican with libertarian leanings, wants to amend Minnesota’s constitution to extend the existing protection against unreasonable search and seizure to electronic data. It’s an issue that cuts across the usual partisan battle lines, but even this odd coalition faces an uphill battle to bring their “data privacy” amendment to a popular vote next year.

Amending the Minnesota constitution requires a majority from both houses of the Legislature, followed by approval from voters at the next general election. Unlike normal laws, it doesn’t need a signature from the governor.

Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College, said it’s “a big surprise” to see the coalition backing Petersen’s amendment.

“It’s hard to think of another issue that would bring them together,” he said.

But getting groups on the left and right to agree on an issue doesn’t guarantee passage.

“The question is, where is the political center on this — the more moderate members of each party?” Schier said.

While most bills may split lawmakers on a left-right divide, Schier said the data privacy amendment might be better described as an insider-outsider split, with populist activists clashing against establishment leaders.

—Distributed by Tribune Content Agency