HB 251: Upholding Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirements
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.
For the past few years, Libertas has been focused on preserving your privacy from the government when using electronic devices that hold and transmit more information about ourselves than any file cabinet could ever hold.
We’ve been successful in getting the law changed to make clear that, without a warrant, your device and your data that you’ve entrusted to third-parties should be protected from law enforcement searches.
Even the U.S. Supreme Court has begun to see things our way and has extended those protections nationwide for cell phone location records.
But broad warrants are still being issued that are inconsistent with Fourth Amendment restrictions that require the government to identify a specific person or thing they wish to search. This has been happening around the country for the past several years, and it’s unclear if everyone intends to honor the spirit of the recent Supreme Court ruling.
Reverse location and keyword searches are relatively new tools being used to identify potential suspects, but they’re potentially including hundreds of innocent people as well. Simply put, law enforcement submits geographical coordinates or a search term to a judge within a warrant so that they can ask a third-party, like Google, for the identifying information of any devices that were within those coordinates during a certain time frame or searched for those particular words.
For example, police might want to know which cell phones happened to be in the city park one evening when a crime was committed.
At no point do police have particularized suspicion of an individual—instead, they are fishing for the person they are after in a sea of innocent people. You can be swept up in searches merely because you happened to be going about your business.
These types of general warrants are exactly the kind of thing the Founders had in mind when they wrote the Fourth Amendment long ago.
In order to protect the privacy rights of individuals, these reverse location and keyword warrants must be banned since they do not meet the proper requirements for a legitimate search warrant and violate the Fourth Amendment protections laid out in the Constitution.
And that’s exactly what Representative Ryan Wilcox’s House Bill 251 does. If law enforcement wants to use a reverse location or keyword search warrant they must have a particular suspect before proceeding.
If the Utah Legislature does not vigilantly secure these privacy protections, then we will allow the digital era to erode our privacy rights into a meaningless string of words.