The Agenda

Ron Wyden and Jason Chaffetz Join Forces on the GPS Act

Ron Wyden, the senior Democratic senator from Oregon, and Jason Chaffetz, a conservative House Republican from Utah, are joining forces on the GPS Act, which is designed to protect privacy rights concerning geolocation data. Charles Pope of The Oregonian reports:

“GPS technology is unquestionably a great tool, not just for Americans on the go and cellular companies offering services, but for law enforcement professionals looking to track suspects and catch criminals,” Wyden said.  “But all tools and tactics require rules and right now, when it comes to geolocation information, the rules aren’t clear.”To correct that, Wyden and Chaffetz are offering legislation that would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause before location information can be collected. Requiring proof that the information is both useful, necessary and closely connected to a case is the same standard required for tapping a person’s phone.

Back in March, Declan McCullagh of CNET offered more detail on a draft of the proposal:

 

The Obama Justice Department has argued in court that warrantless tracking should be permitted because Americans enjoy no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their–or at least their cell phones’–previous locations. And an agent in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation told Congress last year that requiring a search warrant before tracking criminals “will have a significant slowing effect on the processing of child exploitation leads.”

Wyden’s GPS Act says that, in general, it’s illegal to track someone wirelessly except with a warrant signed by a judge, permission of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or during an emergency situation. Prior consent to being tracked is another exception, of course, and it’s also legal to snoop on the location of someone who stole your wireless device (or car, for that matter). [Emphasis added]

In case you don’t follow civil liberties issues, this notion of a “reasonable expectation of privacy” crops up again and again. For example, if you share your transaction data with your credit card company, well, the federal government believes that you have no “reasonable expectation of privacy” with regards to that data because you’ve already shared it with a third party. This might be reasonable with respect to credit card transactions, though I’m not entirely convinced, but I consider it a serious stretch to suggest that my decision to carry a smartphone means that I’ve given implicit permission to the federal government to track my movements. 

Chaffetz has proven himself to be an impressive legislator, and Wyden continues to demonstrate that he is an appealingly unconventional liberal willing to make common cause with defenders of private economic and civil liberties. 

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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