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State legislators push for online privacy protection

By Faith Smith, KECI Reporter, fcronin@keci.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 01:18:24 AM MST
Updated On: Aug 15 2013 11:33:26 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

A law to protect your online privacy has already passed in Missoula, and now one Montana legislator is pushing for changes statewide.

Earlier this month an ordinance passed in Missoula saying employers can no longer ask employees for passwords to their online accounts.  And with recent attention on the federal government’s reach into your personal communications people are starting to question how private their conversations really are.

Thursday night NBC Montana attended a public meeting sponsored by Missoula-based group MontPIRG, a consumer group that tackles such subjects as health and safety, freedom and government.

At the meeting Missoula City Council members and state legislators addressed the public about the controversial issue of online privacy.   

NBC Montana talked to 26-year-old state Rep. Daniel Zolnikov (R-Billings), who already helped pass a law requiring a search warrant to access people’s phone GPS information, and now he’s fighting for online privacy.  

“I want consent so that it's implied that this information belongs to you instead of it's just up for grabs to sell on the market to the highest bidder,” he says.  

Zolnikov says it's a common misconception that the information you put online, even through email, is private.

“It's not private,” he tells us.  “It's being recorded, it's being saved and it's being sold.”

He says with how rapidly technology changes, online privacy is a generational issue.

“We understand it, we know the complexities of it and how information is gathered,” says Zolnikov.  “Even 10, 15 years ago what you did on the internet was all anonymous.”

Eric Fulton, the CEO of Subsector Solutions, works as a professional hacker.  Fulton tells us it's easier to collect private information than most people think.

“Everyone doesn't want to be living on a camera,” says Fulton.  “Everyone wants to know that they can be in their home and not have their privacy invaded and watched upon by a third party.  That's an essential right to being a human.”  

Fulton tells us if you want something to remain private, simply don’t put it online.  

“What a lot of people don't realize is while Gmail is free, the cost of ‘free’ is your privacy, and there are a lot of services that are supposedly ‘free,’” he says.  

Fulton says a good way to protect yourself is to encrypt your information.

“Get yourself a password protector,” he tells us.  “It allows you to remember one complicated password and it remembers the rest and has a bunch of different passwords for other websites.”

Zolnikov says if people want online privacy state policy needs to change.

“When legislators are running for re-election and they knock on your door, take the time and say 'you know what, I’m all about my personal privacy,'” says Zolnikov.  “That could have a huge impact.”

He tells NBC Montana even though our constitution gives us rights, he wants state legislation to back it up.

“You think it's your personal information, I’m trying to make it your personal information,” says Zolnikov.

Overall Zolnikov says if someone is going to obtain people's personal data, they should need to get the OK first.

If you would like more information about online privacy, click here.