Utah House Bill 150, regrettably, is back. And, despite narrowing this misguided measure's scope, lawmakers are still walking on a slippery slope that threatens the Fourth Amendment and privacy rights.
The House revived, revised and approved a watered-down version of the bill last week, and sent it to the Senate for consideration. If adopted, the measure will add to the list of criminal investigations in which the state Office of the Attorney General can bypass the courts and issue administrative subpoenas to obtain data about suspects from Internet and cellular telephone service providers.
Proponents say it takes too long to get permission from the courts to acquire electronic records. That sounds like cause for requiring a timely judicial review of requests, not cutting the courts out of the process.
The slide down the slope started last year when the Legislature authorized the AG's office to issue subpoenas for electronic records in investigations of child-sex crimes. Now, in the revised version of HB150, lawmakers would extend that authority to cases involving child kidnapping and cyberstalking.
We agree with the bill's supporters that crimes committed against children are among the most heinous offenses. The youngest among us should not be preyed upon. And the knee-jerk reaction is to give prosecutors every tool possible to investigate dangerous predators and bring them to justice.
But even criminals who commit crimes against children have rights. If we set aside constitutional protections for one category of crime, it sets a precedent that could erode those rights in other cases.
Besides, prosecutors and police already have the tools they need. As opponents pointed out, the data -- e-mails, phone numbers and customer names and addresses -- can be obtained through court-issued search warrants. There's no need to abandon due process and jeopardize rights granted under the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures, and requires that probable cause be shown.
As currently written, HB150 represents a big improvement over the original version of the bill, which was more like a leap off a cliff than a walk on a slippery slope. It would have enabled the AG's office to employ administrative subpoenas to seek electronic records for any felony offense, as well as several misdemeanor cybercrimes.
But, even in its altered state, HB150 is still a dangerous bill that needs to be killed.