Utah data privacy bill sails through the House

Sponsor says he’s trying to ‘rein in’ government abuses and safeguard Utahns’ personal information.

(Rick Bowmer AP file photo) In this Jan. 27, 2020, file photo, Republican House Majority Leader Francis Gibson speaks on the floor of the Utah House of Representatives, in Salt lake City. Gibson privacy protection bill passed the House on Friday and heads to the Senate.

Utah might soon assemble a team of privacy officials to keep tabs on the practices of state agencies and local governments that are gathering personal data and experimenting with new technologies.

The move follows the recent controversy over state contracts with Banjo, a Park City-based surveillance tech company. Last year, reports surfaced that the founder of the company behind the effort was once an active participant in a white supremacist group and was involved in the shooting of a synagogue. Multiple state agencies suspended or canceled their contracts with Banjo in response to the revelations.

Now, House Majority Leader Francis Gibson wants to create two privacy officer positions inside Utah government and a privacy commission to develop best practices on technology use and put a check on data collection efforts.

Gibson said the legislation, HB243, doesn’t accomplish everything that he set out to do but is a step in the right direction.

“This is an ability, a first attempt to be able to have some accountability as to when we give our personal information to the state or to the county or to the city or to the school district, who has it and what are they doing with it?” Gibson, R-Mapleton, said Friday. “It’s an attempt ... to rein in what many believe are abuses of our private and personal data.”

Gibson’s legislation cleared the House on Friday by a unanimous vote and moves on to the Senate.

“Whatever we do on the other bills, we need to pass this one,” Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, said. “This will have implications for how we look at this from a law enforcement perspective, from a personal security perspective long into the future if we do this right.”

Under his bill, House and Senate leaders would be in charge of appointing cybersecurity, technology, law enforcement and legal experts to the 12-person privacy commission. The panel would be in charge of crafting “guiding standards” for government privacy practices; developing best practices for storing personal information and data security; and reviewing civil liberties concerns.

They can also make recommendations for legislation on privacy and consider cases forwarded to them by the state’s privacy officers.

One of those new state privacy officer positions will focus on overseeing the privacy and data policies in Utah’s local governments and identifying which ones pose the “greatest risk to individual privacy.” The officer can prioritize specific cities and counties for review by the commission and offer these local governments suggestions for reform, according to the bill.

The second privacy officer created under the bill would be appointed by the governor and tasked with monitoring state agencies. This person would also identify the practices that are most threatening to personal privacy and would highlight specific situations for the commission’s review.