New Privacy Law in Utah

Legislation, Privacy, Technology

By: Allyson Mower

Last month, a new law known as the Electronic Information or Data Privacy Act became effective in Utah. It requires law enforcement agencies to obtain search warrants when retrieving electronic information for criminal investigations. This is an important element in terms of privacy, but what stood out most to me was that the law defines ownership of electronic data. The privacy act stipulates that individuals retain ownership of the data they transmit electronically and not service providers or software vendors.

The sponsor of the bill, Representative Craig Hall, wanted the bill to replicate existing privacy and search warrant operations present when data are fixed on paper. The list of what gets defined as electronic data includes the following:

Text of a new privacy act in Utah
  • Sign
  • Signal
  • Writing
  • Image
  • Sound
  • Intelligence
  • Location information
  • Device data

The list of what constitutes electronic data does not include communication transmitted verbally or by pagers nor does the definition include electronic money transfers.

As a copyright librarian, I was struck by the similarity to lists of works eligible for copyright protection and ownership. Obviously, the U.S. Copyright Act does not primarily address criminal investigations or privacy in the way this act does, but it is helpful to see ownership enumerated in such a way. It is always good to clarify ownership, in my opinion. According to the CyberAdviser blog, Utah’s law would be the first. But the Decipher blog says California and New York are really leading the way in online privacy protections.

This type of ownership clarification made me wonder what The Age of Surveillance Capitalism author Shoshana Zuboff would think and whether or not the law makes any headway on the overall issue. For myself, I think the ownership clarification is good and replicating traditional limitations on law enforcement agencies seems crucial in the online, digital, and electronic realm as well. I think it’s helpful to only not have terms of service that dictate ownership because it would be so easy for a service provider to change the terms leaving individual contributors without much protection. This legislative intervention seems like an important component in protecting individual privacy and autonomy.        

Allyson Mower

Allyson Mower, MA, MLIS is Head of Scholarly Communication & Copyright at the University of Utah Marriott Library. She’s very curious about curiosity, what drives people to uncover information, and how libraries of all types create demand for knowledge. As a tenured faculty member, she researches the history of academic freedom — a kind of intellectual freedom — and the history of authorship and scholarly communication at the institution. She provides the U of U community and the general public with information, tools, and services related to both copyright and publishing. Allyson was a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2008, was nominated as a 2012 Society for Scholarly Publishing Emerging Leader, and served as the U of U Academic Senate President in 2014. Find her on Twitter @allysonmower.

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