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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Filed Under: 4th amendment, domestic surveillance, third party doctrine, utah, warrants

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  1. identicon
    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?

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