Utah bill would limit police access to your cellphone data

Nov 21, 2022, 5:30 PM
Rioters at the US Capitol...
FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. A federal judge held the director of the District of Columbia’s Department of Corrections and the warden of the city’s jail in contempt of court on Wednesday, Oct. 13, and asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the civil rights of inmates are being abused. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth had hauled the jail officials into court as part of the criminal case into Christopher Worrell, a member of the Proud Boys who has been charged in the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — On Wednesday, a proposal to limit how much data police can collect from your cellphone if you were near a crime scene passed at the Legislature.

The Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee voted unanimously to advance the proposal. It focuses on law enforcement’s use of “geofencing warrants” to access location data from anyone at a certain place and time.

Police and a person’s cellphone

The proposal would also require police to report how often they obtain a person’s cellphone data from tech companies, such as Google.

Utah bill would limit how and when police can see your old location data

In support of the bill limiting police use of your location data is Connor Boyack of the Libertas Institute of Lehi, Utah. He joins KSL NewsRadio’s Dave & Dujanovic with Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic to further discuss the bill.

Dave said he has given permission to the 43 apps on his cellphone to track his location.

“What’s interesting about the example, Dave, that you were mentioning is you have the ability to deny certain apps your location. But you don’t really have the ability to deny the cellphone providers your location,” Boyack said.

Because we all carry our cellphones everywhere we go, he added carriers like T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon all track users’ locations over years to built a database. 

Innocent protesters swept up in FBI dragnet

This database helped the federal government discover who attended the “Stop the Steal” rally and subsequent attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“The way that the government was able to figure out who was there is they literally drew a map — it’s called a geofence — around the Capitol, and they went to Google and Verizon and said, ‘Tell us everyone who was there.’ They were able to identify all these people who were at the location because their phone was with them,” Boyack said.

He pointed out that not everyone who attended the rally stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6, clashed with D.C. police and unleashed mob violence.

These non-violent protesters “were swept up in this surveillance dragnet by the FBI because their cellphone location information was within that geofence.”

“If we don’t restrain the government’s ability to collect information on all these innocent people, it can create a lot of problems for them,” Boyack said.

He added he supports the bill now on Capitol Hill. Because it requires the government go through the traditional warrant process and that the rights of innocent people are protected.

Also, these large “geofences” that law enforcement draws needs to restrained, Boyack said.

“We’re trying to narrow it,” he said. “Just like if [police] want to come to my house, they have to be narrow and specific [in a search warrant]. We’re trying to do the digital equivalent of that.”


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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Utah bill would limit police access to your cellphone data