JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers are backing attempts to bolster privacy protections by endorsing measures aimed at shielding electronic communications, public school students and library records.
During their annual session that concluded this month, lawmakers passed measures that would bar school districts from requiring students to use IDs with technology to monitor or track their location and that would limit disclosure of library records about patrons' use of e-books and digital materials. Both bills are heading to Gov. Jay Nixon. The legislature also referred to the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at protecting electronic communications from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The measure appearing on the August ballot would add electronic communications and data to the Missouri Constitution's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures of Missourians' "persons, papers, homes and effects."
"It makes perfect sense that if our hard-copy data is protected from unwarranted searches and seizures, that our electronic data also should be," Rep. Paul Curtman, a Republican from Pacific, said before lawmakers passed the measure on the final day of the legislative session.
Other states have discussed restrictions on electronic monitoring and tracking. The Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center said Americans are concerned about privacy and that states increasingly have stepped up as federal officials haven't been able to act.
"There is a big sentiment in our state — whether you're right-leaning or left-leaning of 'Mind your own business,'" Sen. Paul LeVota, a Democrat from Independence, said during floor debate this spring. "We want government to mind your own business on all kinds of things."
Missouri's legislation addressing public school students deals with radio frequency identification and similar technology. An RFID tag is programmed with a unique identification number that can be used to identify the object, person or animal using a reader device. Radio tracking has been used for tracing inventories, in toll booth quick passes, and for uniting missing pets with their owners.
Schools in Texas have used the technology in student ID badges, including in San Antonio where it sparked a legal challenge from a student who said it violated her religious beliefs. The school system experimented with "locator" chips on two campuses with an eye toward safety and efficiency. School funding in Texas is based on daily attendance and that means students counted as absent cost the district money.
Legislative supporters of Missouri's measure say they aren't aware of similar efforts in the state and don't want them to start. They say RFID tracking could make students vulnerable to a wrong-doer able to hack into the system and thereby track a student's location.
A 2008 Missouri law bars employers from requiring workers to get a microchip designed to contain a unique ID number and personal information. Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to a year in jail and fine of up to $1,000.