ACLU and Bipartisan Supporters Urge Passage of Bill to Check GPS Tracking by Police

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
March 20, 2013 10:28 am

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March 20, 2013

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AUGUSTA – A bill with broad, bipartisan support would place needed limits on the unchecked location tracking of GPS-enabled devices by law enforcement in Maine. LD 415, “An Act to Require a Warrant to Obtain the Location Information of a Cell Phone or Other Electronic Device,” is sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz (R- Augusta) and has the support of legislators on both sides of the aisle as well as the ACLU of Maine, conservative activists and technology experts. A hearing is scheduled in the Judiciary Committee today at 1:00 p.m.

“The authors of our outdated privacy laws could never have imagined the technology that we enjoy today, which is why new laws are needed to bring protections up to speed with a rapidly advancing world,” said Sen. Katz. “This bill would put reasonable privacy standards in law, still allowing the police to chase and catch the bad guys while protecting the rest of us from yet another intrusion into our personal lives.”

Advancing GPS technology and a demand for greater cell tower density mean government agents are increasingly able to construct detailed and precise portraits of individuals’ lives and movements based on information location created by their GPS-enable devices, including cell phones, personal computers and navigation systems. Yet the federal law governing the privacy of electronic information, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), hasn’t been updated since 1986. While ECPA includes warrant requirements for the use of wiretaps, it does not address GPS information.

“Geolocation technology is incredibly powerful and paints a far more detailed picture than mere observation,” said Rep. Michael Carey (D- Lewiston), a co-sponsor of the bill. “Do we really want the government to have the unchecked ability to map out our individual lives, down to what floor of a building we visited, at what time, and with whom?”

While some police departments around the country obtain a warrant before obtaining an individual’s present or historical location information, there is no statewide standard in Maine. LD 415 would require law enforcement to obtain a probable cause warrant in most instances before obtaining location data, with some emergency exceptions.

“It’s no longer acceptable to say ‘if you want to protect your privacy, don’t use the technology,'” said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine. “Cell phones and GPS devices are unavoidable necessities of modern life for most people, and using them should not make us subject to unchecked monitoring by the police.”

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