Members of Congress announced two separate bills on Wednesday designed to prevent the abuse of location data collected by electronic devices.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act, which would prohibit service providers from sharing customer’s location information. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who chairs the House Judiciary Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet Subcommittee, has signed on as a cosponsor.
The bill would require law-enforcement agencies to show probable cause and get a warrant before collecting geolocation data on a person. It also creates criminal penalties for secretly using electronic devices to track people. The GPS Act applies to real-time tracking, as well as information on past movements, and its provisions cover all electronic tracking, not just mobile devices.
“I think it’s great that GPS and tracking technology exists,” Chaffetz said in a statement. “What isn’t great is the idea that this technology can be used to track somebody without their knowledge. Quite frankly, the government and law enforcement should not be able to track somebody indefinitely without their knowledge or consent, or without obtaining a warrant from a judge.”
Privacy and technology groups praised the GPS Act as a welcome step toward protecting privacy.
“Whether they realize it or not, Americans are carrying tracking devices with them wherever they go. Whether they visit a therapist, liquor store, church, or gun range, Americans’ activities are often available to law enforcement in real-time or even months after the fact,” said Laura Murphy, Washington director for the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Tracking our locations and movements without warrants or probable cause is a massive privacy violation. With unclear standards to regulate the collection of this information, our Fourth Amendment rights are left largely unprotected.”
Recent disclosures about how cellphones track and record users’ locations sparked withering criticism from Capitol Hill. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Privacy, Technology, and Law Subcommittee, held a hearing and questioned representatives of companies like Apple and Google.
Now, Franken and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who has criticized Google for collecting personal data with its Street View cars, have introduced a bill that would require companies to receive express consent from users before collecting or sharing information with third parties.
The bill would also require companies to delete personal information at a consumer's request.
Both Apple and Google have denied that their phones track and record users' locations.
Franken said his research has led him to conclude that current laws do little to protect information on mobile devices.
“Geolocation technology gives us incredible benefits, but the same information that allows emergency responders to locate us when we're in trouble is not necessarily information all of us want to share with the rest of the world,” Franken said in a statement on Wednesday announcing the bill. “This legislation would give people the right to know what geolocation data is being collected about them and ensure they give their consent before it’s shared with others.”
How the two bills might mesh remains to be seen, but Wyden spokeswoman Jennifer Hoelzer said the more comprehensive bill has been in the works for about 18 months.