Bill Would Require Warrant for Cellphone Location Info

(KCPW News) A bill requiring Utah law enforcement officials to get a warrant before collecting cell phone data made its way out of a House Committee on Friday Morning. KCPW’s Roger McDonough has that story.

Audio after transcript

Ogden Republican Representative Ryan Wilcox said that House Bill 128 was about applying the language of the 4th amendment to the US constitution to 21st century technology. The fourth amendment – dating from 1792 – guarantees the right of people to be [quote] “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Representative Wilcox, cellphone in hand, drove that point home during a meeting of the House Public Utilities and Technology Standing Committee on Friday:

“None of this can dispute that this is the modern version of our persons papers and effects. My entire life’s in here. I can show you pictures of my kids…everything’s in there. It is a little bit about GPS location data. That’s something particularly personal. It’s also about the information that’s transmitted and what you send – and whether or not that is appropriate to be collected by a government entity that does not have a warrant.”

Citing a recent decision from the US Supreme Court, and parallel actions by Utah lawmakers in recent years, Marina Lowe, Legislative and Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Utah, spoke in favor of the bill.

“There is definitely a lot of precedent for this notion that we need to get a warrant before we track somebody’s movements because even information about somebody’s movements contains highly sensitive and private information.”

Lowe said that the ACLU had conducted a survey of law enforcement agencies across the country – and that findings backed up the need for legislation like Wilcox’s.

“Looking at those responses, we found that while cell phone tracking is routine, actually few agencies do get warrants before they get this information. Some here in Utah do, and others do not. So it’s not uniform in fact that law enforcement agencies are always getting a warrant right now, before getting this data.”

The bill does include some exceptions. For example, law enforcement could still use cell phone GPS data to help find someone lost in the wilderness. HB128 passed unanimously and will now be heard before the full house.

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