New bill would ban secret GPS data collection

As technology expands, the possibility of it being used for ethically gray purposes also increases. In the case of GPS, some worry law enforcement and governments could monitor, track and otherwise surveil through smart phones or similar devices. But unlike what’s often shown in fictional programs like “CSI” and “Law & Order,” these intrusions could wrongfully target civilians and lead to serious intrusions on fourth amendment rights.

A new bi-partisan bill to be presented to Congress soon seeks to do away with GPS tracking unless a warrant is issued.

New bill would ban secret GPS data collection

Originally reported by CNET back in March, a draft of the proposed legislation was provided to Wired in late May.

Backed by Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore), the “Geolocational Surveillance and Privacy Act” (or…GPS) seeks to “specify the circumstances in which the Government may acquire geolocation information for foreign intelligence purposes and for other purposes.”

Chaffetz believes “law enforcement…has overstepped its bounds and thrown out many of our Fourth Amendment rights.”

The bill, clarifies NextGov, is a way to reign in far-reaching attempts to gather GPS data and would require a signed search warrant before law enforcement agents could leverage GPS technology – be it in phones or actual GPS devices – for tracking purposes.

The site also covered his speech at the 8th annual Personal Democracy Forum held in NYC this week.

“[Law enforcement officers] have, right now, the ability to take a GPS device, put it on the bottom of your car and follow you without ever getting a search warrant,” he said. “I think the American public deserves and expects a degree of personal privacy. We in America don’t work on a presumption of guilt.”

Chaffetz isn’t necessarily against GPS tracking, telling Wired that its widespread presence is “a good thing.” However, he added “we just don’t want nefarious characters tracking people without someone knowing, nor do I want law enforcement to be able to just follow everyone all the time.”

The bill would also better guard citizens against telecommunications companies’ attempts to collect locational information from their customers.

“[Telecom businesses] don’t want their devices to become something you’re afraid of,” said Chaffetz to the PDF 2011 audience. “They don’t want someone to be afraid of their BlackBerry or their iPad or something because someone else is surreptitiously tracking them.”

Senator Wyden, though not as outspoken as his co-sponsor on the GPS bill, made headlines recently with his declaration to “object to any unanimous consent request to proceed to…the PROTECT IP Act.”

PROTECT IP (.PDF) drew heated criticism from various sources over the possibility it could be used to censor the Internet – from Google executives to hacktivist group Anonymous.