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    Chaffetz and Wyden Introduce Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act of 2011

    Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced the “Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act of 2011” (GPO pdf; archive pdf; THOMAS status link for H.R. 2168). There’s been a lot of discussion about geolocation privacy since news broke concerning researchers’ revelations about the tracking and storage of users’ location data on Apple iPhones and 3G-enabled iPad tablets, as well as location tracking on Google Android devices.

    Also, there was a detailed report in the New York Times in March about how much personally identifiable data wireless companies collect about their customers and their phone use. A German politician had sued to get his records from German cellphone company Deutsche Telekom, and he released the data. “In a six-month period — from Aug 31, 2009, to Feb. 28, 2010, Deutsche Telekom had recorded and saved his longitude and latitude coordinates more than 35,000 times. It traced him from a train on the way to Erlangen at the start through to that last night, when he was home in Berlin.” Also, here’s a February Q&A on mobile privacy with Wyden:

    In a press release, Chaffetz and Wyden said:

    New technologies – like cell phones, smart phones, laptops and navigation devices – are making it increasingly easy to track and log the location of individual Americans, yet federal laws have not kept pace with the technology.  The lack of legal clarity surrounding the use of electronically-obtained location data, also known as geolocation information, means that there are no clear rules for how this data can be used, accessed or sold by law enforcement, commercial entities or private citizens. […]

    The bipartisan [Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act of 2011] 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.  U.S. Representative 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 for government agencies, commercial service providers, and the public regarding the legal procedures and protections that apply to electronic devices that can be used to track the movements of individual Americans.  In a recent memo, the Congressional Research Service identified a lack of cohesion throughout criminal court jurisdictions over what standards and procedures must be met in order for information gathered though GPS devices to be used in court.  This lack of clarity has led to confusion among law enforcement and prosecutors who waste valuable time and resources litigating and appealing what should be clear cut rules.  The GPS Act takes steps to establish clear cut rules.
    • 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.
    • 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.  (Real-time tracking = “Where is John Smith right now?”  Acquisition of records of past movements =“Where did John Smith go on St. Patrick’s Day?”)
    • Closely tracks existing wiretapping laws with regard to court procedures for getting a warrant, penalties for acting without a warrant, exclusivity of the authority, authorization without a court order, etc.
    • Creates criminal penalties for surreptitiously using an electronic device to track a person’s movements that parallel those 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).
    • Prohibit commercial service providers from sharing customers’ geolocational information with outside entities without customer consent.

    Read an FAQ Word document here.

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