- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah lawmaker is proposing legislation to ensure police don’t use thermal imaging or radar technology to virtually peer through walls without a warrant.

The powerful technology can alert police to a person’s movements inside a building, particularly in a standoff or any situation where officers are trying to enter a structure.

It’s unclear if and how any Utah police agencies are using the imaging technology, but privacy advocates say they want to head off any potential abuses.

A bill unveiled late Wednesday would require police and other government agencies to get a warrant in most cases when they want to use the devices.

The sponsor of the measure, Saratoga Springs Republican Sen. Mark Madsen, said he’s concerned about how an overreaching government could use the technology.

“I know while … law enforcement is often well-intended, we’re often asked to put tools in the toolbox and just allow them to use it at their discretion,” Madsen said. “That has proved disastrous in the past.”

At least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service, have been using the radar devices over the past few years, according to a January report in USA Today.

Madsen said Thursday that he has not seen the radar technology himself but understands that it’s generally a hand-held unit that displays a detailed picture.

Like many new technologies, the radar devices and other sensing technology can be useful but also hold the potential for abuse, said Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, a Utah libertarian policy group that’s working with Madsen on the issue.

“We think it’s an exciting opportunity to protect the lives of officers by knowing what they’re facing,” Boyack said. “At the same time, that has to be balanced with the rights of the presumptively innocent people, including third parties in adjacent buildings, adjacent apartments, who could be swept up in this and their very private activities could now be seen by somebody outside the walls.”

Madsen’s proposal would require officers to explain how they intend to use the technology and limit it to the individual they’re targeting. It also requires police to inform someone after the fact that they technology was used.

The proposal stands a good chance of passing in Utah. Last year, a similar proposal protecting the storage, transmission and location of a person’s electronic data passed the Legislature with near-unanimous support.

The Utah Law Enforcement Legislative Committee, a group representing police chiefs, sheriffs and other law enforcement groups at the Capitol, has not yet discussed the bill, according to chairman Jim Tracy.

Tracy, who is also the Utah County sheriff, said speaking for himself, he didn’t see anything concerning in the bill.

“It covers I think the ability for us to use those when necessary,” he said, “And it does ensure the privacy and the civil rights of the individuals in the public.”

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Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice .


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