Utah Senate Passes Bill That Would Lock The Government Out Of Warrantless Access To Third Party Records

from the enjoy-your-new-home-turf,-NSA dept

Perhaps no state has unrolled and rolled up a welcome mat set out for a federal guest faster than Utah. What was once a shiny new installation with 5-10,000 jobs attached swiftly became a PR black eye after Ed Snowden exited the NSA and sprung a leak.

Suddenly, the sweetheart deal on water given to the NSA seemed like an attempt to curry favor with domestic spies, placing local politicians on the receiving end of reflected wrath from the general public. Utah’s government reversed course, setting itself up as a champion of the people. An attempt was made to shut down the spy center’s water supply. It never made its way into law, but the anti-panopticon tone was set. But the state is still moving forward with efforts taking on the federal government, engaged in the always-awkward grappling of the The Man sticking it to The Man.

Bills forbidding state agencies from participating in domestic surveillance have been introduced elsewhere in the country. Few of these have moved forward. But the Utah legislature — burned by its close ties with the spy agency non grata — has proven more tenacious than most. As Molly Davis reports for Wired, the Utah government is one step away from locking the government out of access to third party records.

On March 12, Utah legislators voted unanimously to pass landmark legislation in support of a new privacy law that will protect private electronic data stored with third parties like Google or Facebook from free-range government access. The bill stipulates that law enforcement will be required to obtain a warrant before accessing “certain electronic information or data.”

The shift towards greater privacy protections may have been prompted by the NSA data sinkhole currently hoovering up water outside of Bluffdale, but this law would affect every other state and federal agency that has made use of the Third Party Doctrine ever since its unwelcome appearance over 40 years ago.

This is very good news for Utah residents, considering the number of third parties collecting data has expanded exponentially over the past two decades. The same court that handed the government the Third Party Doctrine recently gave a little something back to the people, ruling that cell site location info has an expectation of privacy. This alters the contours of third party/government interactions, with every record grabbed without a warrant could result in a legal challenge that restores a bit more of the Fourth Amendment.

Until then, states are free to limit government access to these records on their own. Voluntarily turning over info to private third parties should not be interpreted as citizens turning over this information to everyone and their government-deputized dog.

More states should be like Utah — a phrase that’s probably never been uttered before. Hopefully, more states will follow this lead and get out ahead of the tech curve by providing their residents with these same protections.

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Comments on “Utah Senate Passes Bill That Would Lock The Government Out Of Warrantless Access To Third Party Records”

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26 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Good news, but...

The bill stipulates that law enforcement will be required to obtain a warrant before accessing “certain electronic information or data.”

While I certainly appreciate them passing the law, and hope that more if not all states adopt similar laws, the fact that there even exists a need for a law like this is just completely screwed up, and highlights how out of control numerous government agencies are.

‘If you want to go rifling through someone’s personal data, violating their privacy, you need a warrant’ should not be something that needs to be spelled out, again, as that should be seen, and treated as, the absolute minimum requirement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Good news, but...

Hate to break it to you, but literally, all data sent over the internet for the past few years is being recorded and can be tied directly to you after the fact. They have enough blackmail material from previous decades of illegal searches that they have no one in power that can force them to stop. No one watched the watchers and it turned out they had agendas of their own. Your personal data is available in databases that cross-reference everything you have done, and everyone you have interacted with online.

Anonymous Coward says:

Bet the Government sues Utah

The billions spent on this facility are now going to be wasted so the agencies in charge might end up billing Utah for the cost of replacing it in another state. I’m willing to bet Utah would be bankrupted over that expense instead of enjoying the tax revenue from the people working in that building.

Nathan F (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m pretty sure the standard is that a State can pass a more restrictive law then a Federal version (if there is even one) but not less restrictive. So unless there is an actual federal law that says they can obtain this information without a warrant (as opposed to being given a "go ahead it is not illegal" by the courts) then the States can put in a limitation.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Almost there

"On March 12, Utah legislators voted unanimously to pass landmark legislation in support of a new privacy law that will protect private electronic data stored with third parties like Google or Facebook from free-range government access. The bill stipulates that law enforcement will be required to obtain a warrant before accessing “certain electronic information or data.”"

I sure hope the Utah legislators realize that the NSA, CIA, DIA, and others are not ‘law enforcement agencies’ and expand the definition to all government agencies in the actual final legislation. I also hope that they specifically include phone companies, electric companies, other utilities, email providers (even if they don’t have a ‘presence’ in their state), and cell phones, personal computers and tablets, thumb drives, portable hard drives, cloud accounts, and/or any other data retention method that exists, or will exist in the future. Then, when they get it right, the language could be presented to Congress, where this should be happening.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I believe it was Thad(might have been someone else) who made the argument that that is Blue, desperately trying to present the facade that people actually care about them beyond the usual point and laugh when they show up. Far as I can see it’s a valid conjecture, given the only thing more pathetic than Blue would be a fan of Blue. Flag and ignore either way.

Personanongrata says:

Re: Re:

zippy, 28 Mar 2019 @ 1:42pm

I wonder what would happen, theoretically, if every machine in that complex were to be infected with a virus that wiped out every last bit of information stored there and rendered the drives inoperable? And if it were to spread to all of the NSA’s other machines across the country?

Such a theoretical occurrence (sabotage via deus ex machina) would loosen the governments tyrannical surveillance grip on the nation/world (ie the ability to blackmail persons, industrial espionage, insider stock trading schemes, etc) and liberty/privacy would flourish.

Alas, such a proposition at this stage is but a dream.

Although dreams can become reality with enough sacrifice and hard work.

btr1701 (profile) says:

On March 12, Utah legislators voted unanimously to pass landmark legislation in support of a new privacy law that will protect private electronic data stored with third parties like Google or Facebook from free-range government access.

This only works to limit state agencies’ interactions with Google, Facebook, et al. Unless the company is based in Utah, the federal government will not be affected by this law. An FBI agent in Salt Lake City will still be able to use the 3rd-Party Doctrine to access Facebook and Twitter because they’re California-based companies.

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