Anti-government nonprofit wants to rebalance biometrics law in Utah

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A small libertarian nonprofit in Utah is pushing the state to curb government surveillance, biometric and otherwise.

Libertas Institute sees threats in the state mounting as the government uses personal data “in ways that individuals did not intend nor authorize,” according to the proposal.

The effort is a reaction to Utah government decisions that some find objectionable and, more generally, to the proliferation of surveillance systems used by businesses and consumers.

The institute has proposed a two-part campaign that it says will create more oversight for what information is collected on citizens and how it is used. The reform framework has been circulated among lawmakers but no bill has been introduced yet.

To start, states the document, a new office of citizens’ privacy would be created and overseen by the state’s auditor. The auditor would appoint both a “State Privacy Officer” and a personal-privacy oversight committee. The office and committee would be formed by statute at a later date.

The institute, led by its president, Connor Boyack, sees the privacy officer writing standards for related laws, technology use and data security. The committee, among other tasks, would inform citizens and agencies about the topic, and train government employees on best practices and civil liberty concerns.

Boyack has been quoted saying people need the power to opt out of surveillance rather than serving as “guinea pigs” for government use of their data.

The second step would be launching surveillance-reform legislation to be voted on in the 2022 state legislative session.

Lawmakers and bureaucrats rankled about the notion of rebalancing power when it comes to citizens’ personal information might have no one to blame but themselves.

An article in The Salt Lake Tribune recounts how “state agencies, health providers, the University of Utah and local police departments” had signed secret, no-bid contracts with a surveillance company. The firm, Banjo, was given real-time access to 911 phone calls, security camera footage and other data.

All were forced to suspend the contracts when word of them leaked.

And, last July, The Washington Post reported that Utah had been sharing residents’ driver license information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for use in a facial recognition project.

As with the Banjo incident, no authorization was sought and no residents were informed that their data was being shared for a secondary use.

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