Bipartisan GPS act would end warrantless location surveillance

Sen. Ron Wyden  (D-Ore) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) have introduced the Gelocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act into Congress, in the wake of weeks of investigation and hearings on Capitol Hill. The bill aims to provide strict rules for how, when and if government agencies, law enforcement and corporations can access citizens’ location-based data.

In terms of privacy, the GPS act likens location-based data to telephone conversations, and provides a degree of privacy similar to federal wiretapping statutes. Agencies would be required to obtain probable cause warrants before they could access any geolocation information, with exceptions made for minors, stolen devices, public information, and those who are in immediate danger or have requested assistance.

The GPS act also draws strict guidelines about private companies sharing or selling users’ geolocation data, requiring user consent for the release of any information.

It’s unclear how the statute will affect geolocation data collected by the government itself, rather than by a private company like Verizon, Apple or TomTom. As recent revelations of federal GPS tracking devices have proven, federal agencies have the resources to use their own technology rather than obtain a warrant to use a private company’s.

The act does delineate harsh penalties similar to those for illegal wiretapping for use of electronic devices to surreptitiously track someone, though those penalties have not stopped some agencies from doing so anyway.

Most of the chatter on Capitol Hill began shortly after researchers discovered that the iPhone was storing a long history of unencrypted geolocation data on users’ phones and computer backups. The FCC is also holding a forum on the subject on June 28.

Author: Matthew Ismael Ruiz

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