Bills Would Mandate Warrant for GPS Tracking, Cellphone Location Data

by KIM ZETTER, Wired.com  |  published on March 24, 2013

GPS tracking

Two bills introduced Thursday in the House and Senate would compel law enforcement agents to obtain a warrant before affixing a GPS tracker to a vehicle, using a cell site simulator to locate someone through their mobile device or obtaining geolocation data from third-party service providers.

The comprehensive bills would also prohibit private investigators and other private individuals from using a GPS device to surreptitiously track someone’s location without their consent, thus closing a number of holes that were left open in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision about GPS trackers last year.

The Geolocational Privacy and Surveillance Act (H.R. 1312), introduced in the House by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and in the Senate by lawmakers Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), has gained wide support from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who say the bills are very strong and, if passed, would finally bring legislation up to date with the invasive use of new technologies.

“Police routinely get people’s location information with little judicial oversight because Congress has never defined the appropriate checks and balances,” said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel in the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office in a statement. “Under the GPS Act, all that would change. Police would need to convince a judge that a person is likely engaging in criminal activity before accessing and monitoring someone’s location data. Innocent people shouldn’t have to sacrifice their privacy in order to have a cellphone.”

The bills contain some exceptions for national security cases and emergency circumstances, and would also allow parents to use tracking with children.

The bills are aimed at closing loopholes left last year by a Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Jones, which ruled that attaching a GPS device to a vehicle constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment. The decision stopped short of requiring agents to obtain a warrant for GPS devices, however, and also bypassed the issue of whether warrants should be required to obtain geolocation information collected by service providers from smartphones and car-tracking systems like OnStar.

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