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Lawmakers: Police Should Need Warrant to Track You via GPS


Should law enforcement need probable cause and a search warrant before tracking you via GPS? At least three lawmakers think so: Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mike Kirk (R-Ill.) along with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) reintroduced Thursday the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act, which would require police to get a warrant before using GPS to actively track suspects’ whereabouts.

The GPS act, first introduced in 2011, would require police to get a warrant to access citizens’ current or prior geolocation history from their wireless service provider. The warrant requirement would additionally apply to law enforcement’s secret placement of tracking devices on citizens’ vehicles or other property.

Police would not need a warrant in emergency or national security cases. Additionally, no warrant would be needed to track a phone that’s been lost or stolen — police commonly use GPS-based features such as iOS’s “Find My Phone” to track down stolen iPhones, and this bill would not interfere with that practice.

The bill also adds criminal penalties for people who track another person’s whereabouts via GPS technology without that person’s knowledge.

“GPS technology has evolved into a useful commercial and law enforcement tool but the rules for the use of that tool have not evolved along with it,” Sen. Wyden said in a statement.

“The GPS Act provides law enforcement with a clear mandate for when to obtain a warrant for the geolocation information of an American,” he continued. “It also provides much-needed legal clarity for commercial service providers who often struggle to balance the privacy of their customers with requests for information from law enforcement. Finally, it protects the privacy and civil liberty of any American using a GPS-enabled device.”

The American Civil Liberties Union lauded the bill as a necessary privacy protection against police overreach.

“Police routinely get people’s location information with little judicial oversight because Congress has never defined the appropriate checks and balances,” said Chris Calabrese of the ACLU’s legislative counsel team. “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 cell phone.”

The GPS Act comes as a response to a landmark 2011 Supreme Court decision in which the court found GPS tracking constitutes a “search” under the Fourth Amendment. The court, however, stopped short of saying law enforcement requires a warrant to track people via GPS.

Should police need a warrant to track suspects via GPS? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image via iStockphoto, doram

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