Senator wants to require warrant for GPS tracking in cybersecurity bill

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) plans to offer an amendment to cybersecurity legislation that would require law enforcement officials to procure a warrant before obtaining location data from a person's cell phone, laptop or other gadgets. 

The bill — called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act — hasn't seen any action since Wyden introduced it last year with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). With the August recess and the presidential election on the horizon, the cybersecurity bill could be Wyden’s last chance to move the GPS measure through the 112th Congress. 

The GPS Act aims to clarify how much evidence police and law enforcement agencies need to track someone remotely and access information about their movements. It would also specify when companies should respond to law enforcement requests for such information. 

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Wyden argues his measure is a natural tie-in to the cybersecurity bill from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) because both are designed to update rules for collecting data in the digital age. 

"Because the law has not kept up with the pace of innovation, it makes sense to include the GPS Act’s requirement that law enforcement obtain a warrant for GPS tracking in the Cybersecurity Act. This will protect Americans’ location information from misuse," Wyden said in a statement. "Part of the goal of the cybersecurity legislation is to update rules for information collection and privacy for the digital age, which is what the GPS Act is all about.”

The Supreme Court ruled this year that police need to obtain a warrant before attaching a GPS device to a person's car, but didn't specify whether law enforcement would need to procure the same evidence when tracking a person's movements via other types of geolocation devices, such as a smartphone. 

Since the Supreme Court ruling, Wyden has argued his bill is needed to clear up that confusion and ensure people's information is still protected with the advent of new location technology. 

Wyden plans to file the amendment on Monday. 

Lieberman's bill contains provisions that are intended to improve information sharing about viruses and other cyber threats between the government and industry so a cyber attack or intrusion can be thwarted in real-time. 

A revised version of the bill included changes that narrowed the definition for what type of information can be shared with the government and ensures companies share this data with civilian, not military, agencies. Privacy groups had feared the original version of the bill would increase the pool of personal information flowing to the National Security Agency

After months of political wrangling, the Senate is expected to vote on the cybersecurity bill this upcoming week before it breaks for August recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) agreed to an open amendment process, but would allow only amendments that are deemed relevant and germane. 

In addition to the GPS Act, Wyden plans to file amendments that would narrow the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) measures in the bill and state that the international cooperation-related provisions could not be interpreted "to authorize the president to enter into a binding international agreement establishing disciplines on cybersecurity without advice and consent of the Senate," according to a Wyden spokesman.