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Data In The Cloud? You (Might) Need A Warrant For That

Photo of data center. / scanrail

In what may be the first of its kind, a proposed bill in Utah’s upcoming legislative session could strengthen privacy protections for digital information stored on third-party software.

The bill, HB 57, requires law enforcement to obtain a search warrant before accessing an individual’s digital information stored on a third-party program like Google Drive or Dropbox. Current law doesn’t specifically define protections of electronic information.

The proposed legislation also defines the person who created that information as the owner, according to its sponsor, Rep. Craig Hall (R-West Valley).

“This bill would make clear that the current protections we have in place for the paper world are also in place for the electronic world,” Hall said.

The bill focuses on protecting digital information from law enforcement and will not impose burdens on technology companies who also deal in consumer’s personal data, Hall said.

“The average person, when they’re using their phone, when they’re using these storage applications or any third party application, they reasonably expect that that information is private,” said Michael Melendez, director of policy for Utah libertarian think tank Libertas Institute, which helped write the legislation.

But others argue it isn’t specific enough in making the distinction between privacy barriers to law enforcement and to commercial technology companies.

“That creates a problem for commercial entities because they’re going to try to figure out ‘Well, are we allowed to sell information to third parties? Do we have to get explicit permission to do that? [Or] to secure this information?” said Tomu Johnson, a data privacy and cybersecurity attorney.

Last year Hall tried to update the state constitution to protect residents' electronic data. That proposal failed to pass out of committee.

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.
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