Utah League of Cities and Towns

Making Life BETTER

Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R) – Bill Issues June 2012

Please describe a bill or an issue you are working on that directly impacts Utah’s cities and towns. (June 2012)

In the age of Onstar, smartphones and GPS tracking devices, we are more effective than ever at tracking people. But the line between a convenient tool and an unreasonable search has become increasingly nebulous.

No one wants their every move surreptitiously monitored without permission – whether it be law enforcement, a spurned partner, or a nefarious stranger keeping tabs on us. Given the legal ambiguities associated with modern technology, we must update and clarify the law.

Although the Supreme Court ruled attaching a GPS device to a person’s car without their knowledge constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment, there are no rules governing the use of geolocation information obtained from other types of devices.

In an effort to protect the personal liberties guaranteed to Americans in the Constitution, I recently joined with Senator Ron Wyden and several of my colleagues to introduce the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation creates a legal framework designed to give government agencies, commercial entities, and private citizens clear guidelines for when and how geolocation information can be accessed and used.

Simply put, no one should be able to track somebody indefinitely without their knowledge or consent or without obtaining a probable cause warrant from a judge. We should have a reasonable expectation of privacy in this country.

By adding criminal penalties for those who surreptitiously use an electronic device to track a person’s movements, the updated law parallels the federal penalties for wiretapping. Currently, if a woman’s ex-husband taps her phone, he is breaking the law. This legislation would treat hacking her GPS to track her movements as a similar offense.

A May 17 hearing on the bill highlighted that under current law, neither Congress nor most states have enacted statutes to regulate the use of tracking data kept in more than 322 million mobile phones across the country.

The legislation requires the government to show probable cause and get a warrant before acquiring the geolocational information of a U.S. person, while setting out clear exceptions such as emergency or national security situations or cases of theft or fraud. The law would apply to data obtained both from commercial service providers and from devices covertly installed by law enforcement. Provisions are applicable to real-time tracking of a person’s movements, as well as the acquisition of records of past movements.

The GPS Act has received broad support from a wide range of organizations across the political spectrum. Among them are the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Tax Reform’s (ATR) DigitalLiberty.net, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) (which includes among its members Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Sprint).

These updates to the law, made necessary by changing technology, will further protect the civil liberties guaranteed to all Americans.