Law enforcement agents can request your cell phone company turn over your private location data without demonstrating probable cause or obtaining a search warrant.
This unregulated location tracking poses a real, immediate and far-reaching threat to our privacy. Everyone who has a mobile phone is carrying a portable tracking device, one that can be used to reveal our every move.
In 2011 alone, mobile phone providers received 1.3 million law enforcement requests for customer records. This is actually a vast undercount of Americans affected by warrantless location tracking. These dragnet data requests are on the rise.
GPS Act proposed
In June, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) teamed up to write the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act. The bipartisan 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. Rep Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet, endorsed the effort as an original co-sponsor.
Overall the GPS Act:
- Provides clarity regarding the legal procedures and protections that apply to electronic devices that can be used to track the movements of individual Americans.
- Requires the government to show probable cause and get a warrant before acquiring the geolocational information of a person, while setting out clear exceptions such as emergency or national security situations or cases of theft or fraud.
- Applies to all law enforcement acquisitions of the geolocational information of individual Americans without their knowledge, including acquisition from commercial service providers as well as from tracking devices covertly installed by the government.
- Applies to real-time tracking of a person’s movements, as well as the acquisition of records of past movements.
- Creates criminal penalties for surreptitiously using an electronic device to track a person’s movements that parallel those for wiretapping.
- Prohibit commercial service providers from sharing customers’ geolocational information with outside entities without customer consent.
Law enforcement agents should always be required to obtain a warrant and show probable cause before accessing it.