SALT LAKE CITY — The sweeping gathering of information by the NSA, revealed by whistleblower and fugitive Edward Snowden, has many U.S. residents worried about who can access their personal data. While that scandal rages on, one Utah internet service provider is taking a stand against what he considers an unconstitutionl law in Utah by refusing to turn over information on his customers without a warrant.
Pete Ashdown, owner of XMission, said he takes issue with a law allowing prosecutors to issue subpoenas outside the courts. Typical subpoenas require a judge's approval, but administrative subpoenas can be issued without such approval.
Ashdown said he fought that law four years ago when the Legislature took it under debate, saying he believes it violates the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as article 14 section 1 of the Utah constitution.
"I think that law enforcement, and to some extent law firms as well, have become lazy in the fact that it's very easy to send these administrative subpoenas out," he said. "And most of the time they get responded to."
He said he's glad to comply with a request for subscriber data — as long as there is a warrant. He's said some half-dozen such warrants have come across his desk in the last 20 years. He would know: He reviews requests for information personally.
Ashdown's position sets him apart from most other ISPs in the country and the state. Ray Child, a spokesperson for Comcast, said his company will grant any legal request.
"Comcast is a law abiding company," he said. "We comply with the law. If we see a request that is an appropriate legal request from a government agency, we'll comply with that request."
Child said details on how many such requests they receive and comply with is confidential.
XMission maintains a page on their website detailing requests for subscriber information. It lists four administrative subpoenas from the Utah Attorney General's office, all labeled "Refused." The AG's office did not return calls seeking comment.
One argument for the necessity of administrative subpoenas is finding and prosecuting purveyors and producers of child pornography. In a June meeting of the legislature's Interim Judiciary Committee, Craig Barlow, chief of the Children's Justice Division in the AG's office, said that 214 administrative subpoenas were issued in 2012 on behalf of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, with about 90 percent relating to sexual exploitation of a child.
Others speaking before the committee pointed out that the information is typically related only to location and identifiers, such as IP addresses, rather than more extensive personal information that a search warrant would cover.
Ashdown spoke out against the law at the meeting, saying it could be compared to requesting the serial number of a legally-owned gun without a warrant, something many Utahns would have a problem with.
Ashdown also said he is disturbed by the revelations concerning the NSA's monitoring activities, going so far as to say he thinks the Utah Data Center, housed in Bluffdale and run by the intelligence agency, should be shut down.
"This is a tremendous power and trust that we're putting in the government to monitor all communications, and I just don't want to live in a surveillance state. That's why I'm speaking out against it."