Wyoming Legislature set to consider 'right to privacy'

AP News
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Posted: Jan 26, 2016 5:12 PM

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The Wyoming Legislature is set to consider a measure in its session starting next month that would allow voters to decide whether to change the state constitution to recognize an individual right to privacy.

Proponents say the increasing collection of data by private industry and government makes the measure necessary.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 10 other state constitutions already recognize citizens' right to privacy. They are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina and Washington.

The Wyoming Legislature rejected a similar measure last year. Opponents cautioned that last year's proposal didn't include language specifying that the public would still have a right to view information about government operations.

A legislative subcommittee reconsidered the issue after last year's session and came up with the current version. The new proposal specifies that it wouldn't deprive people of the right to inspect public records or observe government operations except in cases in which the demand for individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.

Jim Angell, executive director of the Wyoming Press Association, said Tuesday that his organization insisted on the added protections in the current version. The Associated Press is a member of the press association.

"After some debate, the committee, I think wisely, agreed that the balancing language was needed in the amendment," Angell said. "So as it stands right now, we support it. It's our hope that somebody won't try to split those two apart."

It would take a two-thirds vote by both houses of the Wyoming Legislature to send the proposed amendment to Wyoming voters for their ultimate decision.

Flint Waters, chief information officer for the state of Wyoming, supported the proposed amendment. He served as representative of Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, on the legislative subcommittee.

A former Wyoming police officer, Waters has been recognized around the world for his work in developing computer techniques that scour the Internet to catch people trafficking in child pornography. "There's quite a bit going on in the changes in the ways in which digital technology can gather information," he said.

For years, the country has operated on the principle that law enforcement had the right to act on evidence that was left in plain view from a public area, Waters said. "But now that we've got the ability to have technology monitor around the clock, 80 frames a second, numerous locations. It kind of changes the game a little bit," he said.

Current technology allows automated readers to scan vehicle license plate information and compile data about where people are driving and when, Waters said. He said that can have legitimate uses for law enforcement.

"But when that's provided by a company that turns around and sells that data, or controls that information, it tells so much about what the citizens are doing that it's time to make a clear statement on how we value the privacy of citizens," Waters said.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, served on the subcommittee.

"I think it's good to have in the affirmation of rights that we have in our constitution that privacy is now one. It used to be implicit," Case said. "I just don't feel that we have a commitment to privacy in government, and I think we should have."