Limited and Open Government

Utah Leads on Protecting Individual Privacy Rights

On June 17th, the Governor, Attorney General and State Auditor released a statement of their appointments to the newly-created Personal Privacy Oversight Commission. The purpose of the commission is to review government use of technology and provide some best practices and recommendations for the legislature to consider codifying into statute. 

This commission will work with the Government Operations Privacy Officer and State Privacy Officer that were created in House Bill 243, which passed the legislature and was signed into law by the Governor during the 2021 legislative session. The legislation is a nation-leading way to strike a better balance between the government’s public safety responsibilities and individual’s privacy rights. 

Technology plays a major role in the daily lives of Utahns. It has improved the quality of life for billions around the globe. However, the public is not the only group that uses such technologies. 

The government is often an early adopter of technologies. It is admittedly done with good intentions, as they are often charged with protecting the community or wanting to understand how to better serve them. 

But the public is often unaware of how the government is using these technologies. The decision to adopt technology is often made without public buy-in, no significant discussion, and no process to establish guardrails over the use of technology to protect an individual’s constitutionally protected rights. 

While it is understandable that technology can be a good tool for helping achieve the goal of protecting the community, it mustn’t come at the expense of an individual’s fundamental rights. 

This is a policy area that Libertas Institute has worked on extensively in the past. From facial recognition to genealogical databases, Libertas has been actively involved in exploring the intersection of technology and the civil liberty concerns that arise with government use of it. It is important to examine this issue because often, the legal principles that govern the physical world do not evenly apply in the digital space. 

Furthermore, technology is not perfect, by any stretch. While the goods and services they can provide are powerful and can be helpful, they are also flawed. 

If government relies on technology too heavily, the costs can be exorbitantly high for otherwise innocent individuals who were flagged by imperfect technology. 

By adopting this policy, Utah further reinforces its position as one of the more forward-thinking states when it comes to protecting individuals’ rights in an increasingly digital world. 

To learn more about government use of surveillance technology, read our policy brief, Protecting the Right to Privacy in a Digital Era.