Voters Choose Privacy at the Ballot Box

| Philip M. Nelson

While most 2020 media election coverage focused on the races for President and control of Congress, privacy also had its day at the ballot box.

This blog has previously described California Proposition 24, also known as the California Privacy Rights Act (“CPRA”). Over nine million Californians approved the CPRA, which amounts to just over 56% of the up-or-down vote.

Simultaneously, other jurisdictions held referendums on the collection and use of personal information by the government.

The citizens of Michigan approved “Proposal 2, Search Warrant for Electronic Data Amendment.” This ballot proposition amends Article I, § 11 of the Michigan Constitution to guarantee that individuals’ electronic data must be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The practical effect of the constitutional change is that Michigan law enforcement may not obtain electronic data and communications of individuals without a warrant. Proposal 2 received unanimous support in the Michigan legislature, was supported by both the Michigan State Police and the American Civil Liberties Union, and had no known opposition. The strong level of support was reflected by the electorate, as over 88% of the statewide votes were in favor of Proposal 2.

Meanwhile, the city of Portland, Maine became the latest U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement, following similar bans in places such as San Francisco, Boston, and Portland, Oregon. States such as Washington have begun to grapple with determining the boundaries of the government’s permissible use of facial recognition technology. In contrast, Portland, Maine voters were decisive in approving a blanket ban on the use of the technology, with statutory awards of $1,000 or more available to individuals who are surveilled by law enforcement using such technology.