Senators introduce bill to rein-in law enforcement use of location data
Numerous senators from around the country have (re-)presented a bill which would require law enforcement to obtain warrants before gathering location information from phones, GPS devices, and the "stingrays" which mimic cell towers to gather data.
The bill was co-written by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR.), who has previously argued against the National Security Agency's surveillance programs and the FBI's efforts to force tech companies to include "backdoors" into their products to assist with domestic spying.
The bill's inclusion of location data gathered from "stingrays" corresponds with lawmakers' increasing interest in the devices, also known as "dirtboxes," and their warrantless use by both police and law enforcement agencies around the United States.
Senators from both political parties have questioned the Justice Department over the use of these devices, especially in the wake of a Wall Street Journal report explaining how they're used to gather information through airplanes which fly across the country.
"While we all want law enforcement agencies to use cutting-edge tools to catch criminals and protect our borders," Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) wrote in the letter concerning the program, "Americans should not have to sacrifice their privacy rights in the process."
A prior attempt at a similar bill was originally written years ago and was presented in both 2011 and 2013, but stalled out each time before making into law. (Perhaps the third time will be the charm -- if not, there's probably going to be a 2017, right?)
"Buying a smartphone shouldn’t be interpreted as giving the government a free pass to track your movements," Wyden said on his official website. "GPS data can be a valuable tool for law enforcement, but our laws need to keep up with technology and set out exactly when and how the government can collect Americans’ electronic location data."
While much of the bill is focused on changing how law enforcement uses GPS data, it also addresses consumers' use of location-aware devices to track others, and would make it illegal for companies to share someone's location data without their consent. (You hear that, Uber?)
Neither Apple nor Google allow applications to access the information without explicit permission from consumers, but further protecting this information certainly couldn't hurt. As Gov. Chris Christie's (R-NJ) use of location data to attack his opponents showed, the "where" can be just as damning as the "who," "what," "when," and why."