Proposed change to Utah’s Constitution would protect electronic data and communications

Utah voters may be asked in 2018 to update the state’s constitution to reflect rapidly changing technology.

Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, is proposing a change to the Constitution’s prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure to include electronic data and communications. 

“When the Constitution was written, this stuff didn’t exist,” says Hall. “Now, courts seem to be all over the place when deciding what is and what is not protected information.”

Hall’s HJR 9 seeks to add four words to the Utah Constitution under Article 1, Section 14, including “electronic data and communications” in the list of things that should not be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures. That would include items such as cell phone data, text messages, emails and other electronic data. Hall also points out the information shared by mobile devices, such as GPS location information, would also be protected.

“The original language in the constitution protected ‘papers’ from these sorts of intrusive searches. Well, emails and Word documents are the same things as papers in today’s world,” says Hall. “I’m just trying to reflect how we communicate today.”

Hall notes that Missouri has already passed a similar update to their constitution, and other states are considering comparable changes.

The proposed amendment must be approved by a 2/3rds vote by both houses. After that, the proposed change would be placed on the 2018 ballot.