Proposed bill would equate GPS tracking, wiretapping

The bipartisan measure would impose criminal penalties for surreptitiously following someone's location.

Freshman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, on Tuesday touted a bill to limit the government's and private companies' access to citizens' geospatial data.

The Geolocational Surveillance and Privacy Act would prohibit police and federal law enforcement from tracking citizens' location through cellphones, GPS devices and other electronic items without first getting a warrant, according to a draft version of the bill provided by Chaffetz's office.

He and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., plan to introduce the legislation next week.

"Law enforcement, in my mind, has overstepped its bounds and thrown out many of our Fourth Amendment rights," Chaffetz told an audience of technology entrepreneurs and open government advocates at the Personal Democracy Forum conference being held Tuesday at New York University in Manhattan.

"They 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 continued. "I think the American public deserves and expects a degree of personal privacy. We in America don't work on a presumption of guilt."

The legislation that's introduced next week will likely be very similar to the draft legislation, a spokesman for Chaffetz said.

The geolocational bill is expected to be the first of several bills Chaffetz's discussions with Wyden will yield in the coming months and year, he told the audience.

News of the geolocational bill was first reported by the Wired blog Danger Room in late May.

The bill also would impose criminal penalties on individuals who use GPS devices to surreptitiously track a person's movements.

"Currently, if your stalker ex-boyfriend taps your phone, he is breaking the law [but] if he hacks your GPS to track your movements, he isn't," an outline of the bill provided by Chaffetz's office noted. "This would make both of these similar offenses."

The bill also would prohibit cellphone companies and other providers of trackable devices from sharing customers' past or present location information without their clear consent.

Chaffetz said he expects telecom companies to cooperate readily with the legislation.

"They don't want their devices to become something you're afraid of," he said. "They don't want someone to be afraid of their BlackBerry or their iPad or something because someone else is surreptitiously tracking them."

The legislation would apply to U.S. citizens' location information even when they're outside the United States and pertain equally to past and present location information, according to the draft bill.