Privacy Prevails: How Utah is Finding Harmony with Technology and Privacy

This op-ed was originally published in Deseret News on March 20, 2024.

With the pace of technological innovation and the rise in government surveillance, it’s no surprise that concerns about privacy have heightened. SB231, introduced by Sen. Daniel McCay, curtails unwarranted biometric surveillance by government entities, thus addressing this critical privacy concern. The bill is a testament to the state of Utah’s ever-present emphasis on protecting personal liberties, something that is certainly relished in an era of unprecedented government technological surveillance.

SB231, which unanimously passed the Senate and received overwhelming support in the House, amends the law to prohibit a government entity from warrantlessly conducting biometric surveillance on citizens across the state with certain exceptions. This means that absent a warrant, it is unlawful for the government or the police to use biometric software to analyze the physical attributes or manner of an individual in order to identify or locate them — something one would expect to see in a Jason Bourne film or “Minority Report.”

These guardrails serve as an important protective barrier for Utahns, ensuring that their privacy is not violated simply for leaving the house and going about their communities. At the same time, McCay’s legislation grants some flexibility to law enforcement by allowing them to bypass the warrant requirement if there is a public safety threat involving a violent felony or threat of violence — such scenarios would still require documented reasonable suspicion. Additionally, carveouts are given to certain publicly owned or operated spaces such as airports, courthouses, public and charter schools, critical infrastructure owned or operated by a government entity, and buildings owned or leased by a law enforcement agency or correctional facility.

The significance of these privacy amendments is magnified when viewed within the broader national context, where states led by both Republican and Democratic parties are devoting much of their time and energy to changes in consumer data privacy laws. Because so much attention is paid to how private entities handle data, risks around how public agencies use data are often overlooked. In passing this legislation, Utah lawmakers continue to show how important it is that we don’t give the government a free pass when it comes to using data to enforce the law.

SB231 is more than a legal provision — it is a blueprint for a future where technology, privacy and the government are not all at odds, but in harmony. This is reflected in the efforts by various law enforcement stakeholders to balance privacy and public safety.

This move toward enhancing privacy safeguards represents a necessary step toward ensuring that technological advancements do not come at the expense of fundamental rights. With SB231, Utah is choosing a legacy of respect, protection and privacy.