The Utah attorney general is seeking a dramatic expansion of his office's power to compel Internet and cell phone providers to turn over the identities of customers suspected of committing a crime.
But many legislators are unconvinced that the broad new powers are necessary, and one former intelligence officer says the unchecked subpoena authority is ripe for abuse.
Last year, the Legislature granted prosecutors the authority to issue administrative subpoenas demanding Internet companies provide certain information about an individual suspected of a committing a child sex crime.
Without going to a judge, a prosecutor can demand the Internet company turn over the name, address and telephone number for the individual using the Internet address at a given time. They can also demand the individuals' history, including how long they had been a customer and any credit card or bank information used to pay for the account.
Since the Legislature granted the attorney general's office the power, it has issued about one administrative subpoena a day, or about 200 in all.
HB150, sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, would have allowed prosecutors to obtain administrative subpoenas any time they suspect a crime may have been committed -- expanding it dramatically from the current authority for child sex crimes.
Daw had to back down, however, after members of the House Judiciary Committee were reluctant to grant such broad power. It is back before the panel Tuesday morning.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said the scope of the change that the attorney general's office sought was frightening.
"It's anything. This will become standard practice. Step 1: Clock in. Step 2: Go give yourself an administrative subpoena so you can go gather stuff."
Daw has pared down his bill to extend the subpoena authority for the investigation of suspected felonies or in the case of cyber stalking or cyber harassment, both misdemeanors.
Jessica Farnsworth, section chief for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said that before the administrative subpoena power was granted last year, the state had to go to the FBI to get a subpoena, which could take up to six weeks. Now the turnaround is down to two days, she said. She said her office was alerted Friday to a classified ad purporting to sell a baby in Box Elder County, and had to go to the FBI to get the subpoena, because state law doesn't extend the subpoena authority to such cases.
Sean Hullinger, a defense attorney in Salt Lake City who said he worked in counterterrorism for the CIA, compared the subpoena power to National Security Letters authorized by the Patriot Act which, according to the Justice Department's Inspector General, have been widely abused.
"I cannot stress how emphatically I urge you to oppose this bill and to hold the line against this," said Hullinger. "These are, we know from present experience, infinitely easier to abuse than control."