By Rob Morgan
Two new bills propose to place limits on government and industry use of mobile users’ location data. The bills would require users’ permission for industry to share geolocation data. They would also require probable-cause warrants for law enforcement agencies to use mobile-device-location data to track individuals.
The bipartisan Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Or) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), would establish a new standard for when government can access mobile users’ geolocation data. The bill, modeled after existing wiretapping and electronic surveillance laws, would add a new chapter 120 to Title 18 of the U.S. Code, entitled “Protection of Geolocation Information.” If enacted, the new law would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before acquiring a user’s geolocation data, subject to exceptions that largely mirror those in existing wiretapping legislation. (E.g., exceptions for emergency responders, parents of minors, and intelligence investigations under the Patriot Act.) The limits would apply to GPS information logged through Wi-fi networks and cellular towers. The bill specifies that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and this legislation, if adopted, are the only means by which geolocation information may be lawfully obtained by the government.
The Location Privacy Protection Act of 2011, introduced by Senators Al Franken (D-Minn) and Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn), would require companies that obtain users’ location data to 1) obtain consent before collecting and sharing that data; 2) protect the data; 3) tell inquiring customers whether they have data on those customers’ locations; and 4) delete the data if a customer requests it. The bill follows a hearing before the new Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, in which Chairman Franken and his colleagues grilled Apple and Google on their use of location data.
The principal difference between the bills is that, where Wyden and Chaffetz’s bill would reach law enforcement and federal agencies, Franken and Blumenthal’s seeks to regulate only non-governmental entities.