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Utah lawmaker proposes first-of-its-kind ‘biometric privacy’ bill

Posted at 3:06 PM, Aug 16, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY -- A state lawmaker is proposing a bill that would block police from using your fingerprint or a facial scan to unlock your cell phone.

The biometric privacy legislation, a first in the nation, would address growing legal concerns about new technology and police investigation powers.

"Most people think biometric passwords in the form of facial scan or fingerprint are far more safer than numerical passwords. That may be true when it comes to intruders trying to break into your phone. It's not true when it comes to legal standards," said Molly Davis, a policy analyst for Libertas Institute, a libertarian think tank that is backing the legislation.

Right now, police in Utah do have to obtain a search warrant to access your phone. But the rules are different depending on your phone and how it is set up.

"For the most part, courts won't compel you to give a numerical password because they view that as testimonial," Davis said. "But those same standards don't apply to biometrics."

Rep. Adam Robertson, R-Provo, told FOX 13 in an interview Friday that his bill would say "the police cannot use biometrics to open your device." He said he was trying to guard people's Constitutional right on search and seizure.

"If you open a phone, a law enforcement officer cannot control the first thing they see. They may have a right to access a specific piece -- say, the email or voicemail -- but what if I have it open to a website that's self-incriminating, unrelated to the case they were interested in?" he said. "Then we have an issue of unlawful search and seizure here that I'm very concerned about."

Although Utah has had no specific case of someone being compelled to give biometric access to a phone, some law enforcement groups have raised concerns about the proposed legislation potentially hindering an investigation. Val Shupe, the executive director of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, told FOX 13 his group wanted to meet with Rep. Robertson to discuss the bill.

The Provo lawmaker said he was more than willing to talk with them and others in an effort to craft good legislation.

"We don't want to restrict the ability of the police to catch the bad guy," Rep. Robertson said. "Yet how do we balance the need for privacy on the other side?"

The bill is expected to be introduced in the 2020 legislative session.