SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is dropping his office's use of a law-enforcement tool that has raised privacy concerns, citing the potential for abuse.
Reyes announced Friday that he's discontinuing the use of administrative subpoenas, which allow investigators to gather certain Internet or cellphone records without getting a warrant. They now will be required to get a judge's order allowing them to obtain such information.
Reyes, who assumed office in December, said giving up the tool might make his investigators work a little harder, but he has been assured that it won't hinder their ability to prosecute criminals.
"The wholesale writing yourself a note to go after that stuff without any check is too dangerous, and the potential for abuse becomes too dangerous," Reyes told The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/1bzsQQZ ). "I think we can still win, but winning the right way is more important."
His decision comes as Utah lawmakers are considering a bill to require all law enforcement agencies in the state to submit subpoenas to the same judicial review. The measure sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, was unanimously approved Friday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Under current law, prosecutors can sign the subpoenas — without a judge's approval — allowing investigators to collect information from Internet providers and cellphone companies about who owns certain accounts, where they live and how they pay their bills.
When the Legislature gave law enforcement the power to issue subpoenas, it was touted as an emergency procedure when investigators didn't have time to get a judge to approve a warrant, Madsen said.
But according to an investigation by The Tribune, 37 days on average lapsed between the commission of a crime and the issuance of an administrative subpoena. About 1,060 subpoenas were issued by the attorney general's office from 2009 to 2012.
Reyes said he now only anticipates using them in "an emergency situation, like an Amber Alert with a predator whose information we absolutely had to access."
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com