State of the Debate

That’s what we said. Sort of...

First Published      Last Updated Feb 17 2014 04:44 pm

In an editorial written late last week, posted online early Saturday and published in Sunday's print edition of The Salt Lake Tribune, we argued that Utah's law allowing prosecutors to issue their own subpoenas for an individual's records from their Internet service provider or cellphone carrier needs to be seriously restricted.

Warrants, subpoenas should be more carefully used — Salt Lake Tribune Editorial

The idea behind the law was to allow prosecutors to use such a tool, to get such information without the formality of getting a judge to sign off on a real search warrant, was to be able to act with dispatch. But a Tribune investigation showed that wasn't how they were being used.

State's subpoenas rarely reflect sense of 'urgent' action — Dan Harrie | The Salt Lake Tribune

Unbeknownst to us, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was already in the process of telling his lawyers that they were going to stop using those orders. Except in cases where speed really is key, such as a missing child in an Amber Alert-level crisis.

Utah AG's office abandons controversial subpoenas — Robert Gehrke | The Salt Lake Tribune

The timing of all that shows that The Tribune Editorial Board can't take credit for Reyes' decision. He had already, obviously, worked it out on his own. Also late Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would put proper limits on the use of such subpoenas, both by the attorney general and by local prosecutors.

We also didn't give another good idea the Tribune Kiss of Death.

Legislature, of course, should still pass the bill — SB46 — that would limit the use of these judge-less subpoenas.

Reyes is right. Administrative subpoenas raise a lot of privacy issues without really giving law enforcement that much of an added tool.

But, without a change in the statute, Reyes might change his mind. The next attorney general might not be so scrupulous. And those instruments can still be used — and abused — by county prosecutors.

Pass the bill. No matter whose idea it was.