With so much of our lives lived online, people have often assumed that the pictures, financial documents, and other sensitive information we store on our password-protected phones and computers are kept private. But every day, it seems there’s a new data breach, or another story about our information being passed around in ways we couldn’t imagine.
As a result, there’s been an emerging public distrust in the platforms that hold so much of this information, and increased interest by federal and state legislators on how to protect the public’s privacy. So far, government focus has primarily been on protecting consumer information from intrusive collection by private companies. California passed sweeping legislation in 2018 to protect consumer privacy. That same year, the Vermont legislature passed a law to regulate data brokers. Both Washington and Massachusetts are considering consumer data privacy bills.
While these measures are certainly important, protecting private information from law enforcement invasion—not just private industry—also merits urgency. And with pressure from Libertas Institute and the ACLU of Utah, the Utah Legislature is taking steps toward that very thing. 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.” (Unlike consumer privacy laws, the bill does not give individuals the ability to see the information that companies collect on them, and doesn’t regulate how personal data is used internally.) The bipartisan bill is expected to go to Governor Gary Herbert’s desk for final approval next week. If he signs the bill, Utah will be the first state in the nation to lawfully protect the electronic information that individuals entrust to third parties.