Lawmakers push to require a warrant for GPS tracking by police

Lawmakers in both parties are pushing to require that police have a warrant before tracking people’s locations via their cellphones and other GPS devices.

Members of the House and Senate introduced the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act on Thursday, which would protect information about people’s locations from the police and other people.

{mosads}“Buying a smartphone shouldn’t be interpreted as giving the government a free pass to track your movements,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the bill’s authors, said in a statement. “GPS data can be a valuable tool for law enforcement, but our laws need to keep up with technology and set out exactly when and how the government can collect Americans’ electronic location data.”

Courts have so far been mixed about which legal protections apply for information about people’s location.

In 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that police need to obtain a warrant before attaching a GPS device to a suspect’s car. The high court did not address rules for other types of tracking, however, such as the geolocation tools in someone’s cellphone or a driving aide.

Lawmakers say that could leave the door open to abuse.

“This law will settle the controversy and provide specific and clear guidelines to ensure this valuable and effective technology is not abused,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), another author and the head of the House Oversight Committee.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) are co-sponsoring the legislation.

The new bill would require a warrant before police obtain location information from an outside party — such as a phone company — or through the use of Stingray devices, which track cellphone locations by replicating phone towers.

Additionally, the bill would create criminal penalties for people who secretly use an electronic device to track someone else’s movements and would ban companies from sharing users’ location information without their consent.

Legislators previously introduced the bill in 2011 and 2013, but it has so far failed to move forward.

In recent weeks, concerns about location privacy have risen with news reports about how companies like Uber are able to track users’ locations when they hail a car.  

Tags Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act GPS Jason Chaffetz Mobile phone tracking Privacy Ron Wyden Stingray

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