By Lisa Baumann
The Associated Press
HELENA (AP) – Montana government agencies would be barred from going after a reporter’s sources or information through companies like Google under legislation proposed in a House committee Thursday.
Republican Rep. Daniel Zolnikov of Billings introduced the measure in the House Judiciary Committee. He said while Montana has one of the best media shield laws, his bill would close an electronic communications loophole.
“My bill does not change existing law, but adds to it based on a new age of digital communications,” he said.
The current media protection law doesn’t address a reporter’s emails or other electronic information that may be stored on the servers of a communications provider such as Gmail, Yahoo or Outlook, according to Zolnikov.
“When it’s on a Gmail server it’s not your information anymore,” he said, calling that the loophole by which agencies could seek and possibly obtain a reporter’s notes.
Under House Bill 207, anyone in state government would be prohibited from asking for a member of the media’s emails or other electronic communications from companies that store that information.
No one spoke in opposition to the bill. John MacDonald, a lobbyist with the Montana Newspaper Association, said the bill simply lets people know that a journalist’s information on iCloud or third-party server is as protected as the information in a reporter’s desk. The Associated Press is a member of the newspaper group.
He also said he doesn’t know of any cases in Montana of a reporter’s sources or notes being requested in this way.
“We’ve been very lucky so far that we don’t know of an issue like this occurring,” MacDonald said. “I like that we’re getting out in front of something.”
Montana would be first state in the nation to pass this type of protective bill, Zolnikov said. Most states have laws providing protections to the media but no federal law exists.
Zolnikov also said this bill is one of several he’s sponsoring to protect privacy rights in the state. Others would generally ban state government agencies from using license plate scanners and ban them from assisting certain federal agencies in collecting electronic data without a warrant.