Federal Geolocation Privacy & Surveillance Act (the GPS Act) May Limit Law Enforcement Tracking

GPS systems have been making headlines lately as law enforcement personnel make use of them to track and apprehend suspected criminals. While results are positive, this practice has also put a spotlight on the ongoing issue of electronic location data and privacy rights.

GPSActLast January the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act (GPS Act) was reintroduced in Congress in an effort to set parameters. A bipartisan group of senators and congressmen are backing the GPS Act as a means of balancing individual rights with the ability of law enforcement officials to perform their jobs.

Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, one of the bill’s sponsors, referred to the act as a necessary step to bring laws up-to-date with current levels of technology. Fellow sponsor Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon added that smartphones should not be considered “a free pass” for government to track citizens’ movements.

Among other rules, the GPS Act would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant based on probable cause in order to compel providers to disclose customer information. As Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan explained, geolocation tracking reveals much more than just physical movements. Data can be used to generate an entire profile including details about “a person’s familial, political, professional, religious and other intimate associations.”

Other features of the act address high-tech stalking by establishing criminal penalties for anyone found to be surreptitiously tracking another person without his or her knowledge. Service providers would also be barred from sharing geolocation data with third parties without customer consent.

So far the courts have had conflicting opinions regarding the government’s requirement to have a search warrant for geolocation data. In the widely reported United States v. Jones case, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that attaching a GPS device to a vehicle constitutes a search that is regulated by a warrant. However, they failed to address the use of other devices like smartphones and other consumer electronics.

The issue of private data may be still undecided, but our GPS tracking devices are a valuable commercial tool for monitoring vehicle and equipment use for labor optimization and expense reduction. Visit our website to learn more about the GPSTrackIt difference.

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