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State of the State address

Gov. Steve Bullock delivers his third State of the State address in January, 2017, during a joint session of the house and senate in the House Chambers of the State Capitol.

HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock gave tentative support Friday to a privacy measure that would require authorities to get court approval before obtaining private communications, including text messages and emails, from cellphone companies, online portals and other providers of digital services.

But the governor declined to sign the bill Friday until lawmakers include stronger language requiring law enforcement agencies to demonstrate probable cause to warrant an infringement of a person's privacy and protections against illegal searches.

Bullock also wants to limit the scope of the bill to prevent overreach into unintended territory, including information stored outside the United States. The matter has been a sore point for such companies as Google, which has refused to hand over emails sought by federal authorities that could have been stored in servers outside the United States.

Bullock, however, called the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Daniel Zolnikov of Billings and Democratic Rep. Bryce Bennett of Missoula "a good bill that protects Montanans' right to privacy and the right to be free of government searches of electronic information without a proper warrant or investigative subpoena."

Zolnikov said he was amenable to making those changes, although some of the changes proposed by the governor had been stricken from earlier drafts of the bill.

The electronic privacy bill is one of several technology-related proposals seeking the governor's signature.

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On Saturday, the House passed two additional bills from Zolnikov and Bennett. One bill would limit how state and local agencies can use license-plate tracking information, and the other bill would require authorities to obtain a search warrant if a person declines to consent to a search of that person's cellphone, computer or other electronic device.

"What's in your phone is your information, and it's about you. And there should be very high standards to allow access to that information," Zolnikov said. "There are expectations that all of this information is already protected, but many times it's not."

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