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New bill looks at personal privacy vs police cell phone data searches

FILE --Utah State Capitol. 1/27/20 (Photo credit: Colby Walker | KSL NewsRadio)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers are working on a bill that tries to limit how police can use your cell phone data in searches and investigations.

Cellphones are constantly sending and getting signals showing location data, and some police agencies around the country use that data in criminal investigations.

So if you were one of 1,000 people at the State Capitol Building, and a crime happened in one of the rooms, investigators might access the location info on your phone, explained Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, in a committee hearing this week. 

“We are talking about the digital versions of our papers and effects defined in the 4th amendment. It’s not just what’s inside the device or what it communicates, it’s that it’s your very presence,” he said.

His bill could lead to some new privacy protections against that happening, by setting some boundaries for police on the scope of those location data searches. Wilcox said, for example, the cell phone data on those people at the Capitol should be anonymized until police drill down to a more specific few suspects to look at further.

Wilcox said he wants to balance public safety with personal privacy.

He talked about preventing what can be called a “digital dragnet.”

“We don’t want to gather any of that stuff that shouldn’t be gathered up, that belongs to innocent people,” he said.

The bill has been tweaked and may be some more. But it did pass the committee to head to the House.

Wilcox also helped create new rules in 2014 on so-called stingray searches by police.