2021 Bills

HB 243: A Transparent Approach to Protecting Personal Privacy

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker. Click here to contact the sponsor of the bill to share your thoughts, or click here to email your Senator and Representative about it.

Libertas Institute supports this bill

Staff review of this legislation finds that it aligns with our principles and should therefore be passed into law.

Over the past year, several examples have emerged where law enforcement has leveraged new and fallible technologies such as facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and others in the name of protecting the community. The problem lies in the fact that the technologies are imperfect and when law enforcement becomes reliant on the technology, it can put minorities and otherwise innocent people in the crosshairs of law enforcement for no legitimate reason other than technology pointed law enforcement in their direction.

Utah is no exception to this phenomenon. It was just last year when Utahns discovered that the Drivers License Division was allowing federal and state agencies to use the driver’s license photo database and use facial recognition scanning technology to identify potential culprits of crimes. It is worth noting the database does include the faces of minors, as children as young as 15 years old can have a driver’s permit in Utah. Facial recognition was being done for a decade without the public’s knowledge.

Most recently, Banjo, a Utah tech company, made headlines after it was revealed that it had obtained a costly contract to build an intricate, real-time surveillance system for the Attorney General’s office. The software boasted the ability to listen to 911 calls, scan social media posts, monitor traffic cameras, track the location of police cars, and more—providing quick and precise details of individual behavior. They are not the first situation where this has occurred in Utah.

The largest problem with the situation is that law enforcement is actively being an early adopter of developing technologies, and the public has no knowledge of the acquisition or use of the technology until years after the fact, if ever. While some might argue that the courts should later decide the appropriate balance between law enforcement’s interest and personal privacy, courts have been inconsistent in their rulings and it could take years to get a solution, if the technology is ever discovered and challenged.

In reviewing what’s happened, it has become clear that a balanced and transparent approach is needed for public input and legislative oversight.

There needs to be a process in place where law enforcement agencies involve the public when they want to acquire and use new technologies. Representative Francis Gibson has introduced House Bill 243, a first-in-the-nation bill, that would create a process that involves more transparency in the acquisition and use of technology by law enforcement entities.

HB 243 requires a public, transparent review about law enforcement wanting to use new surveillance technology. This enables the Legislature to ensure that the right guardrails and oversight exist to protect civil liberties while still achieving public safety. Additionally, the bill places a premium on transparency through ongoing reporting to the Legislature and opportunities for the public to engage in the process.

Lastly, the bill enables review of various technologies that are being used and subjects them to a thorough vetting process. By having various experts from a variety of backgrounds examine the issues raised by the use of a new technology, policy solutions can be found proactively, allowing for appropriate guardrails and levels of oversight established before an incident arises.

This bill is a great step in the right direction by facilitating greater transparency between the government and individuals. Individuals should have a say in the conversation of how the government leverages certain technologies. If a technology can’t sufficiently protects civil liberties, then law enforcement should not be using it.