March 25, 2011 By Brian Heaton
Prompted by privacy concerns, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is circulating draft legislation that would require law enforcement officials to obtain warrants before using data collected from mobile devices for tracking purposes.
If formally proposed as it’s now written, the bill would severely curtail the ability of police to use geolocation information acquired by wireless carriers. Such data is utilized frequently to pinpoint the whereabouts of criminals through items such as cell phones, global positioning systems and computers.
With technology advances outpacing existing law, individuals and telecommunication companies are wary about the legalities of sharing personal location data. But as Paul Wormeli, executive director emeritus at the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, explained Friday, March 25, Wyden’s bill could also have a chilling effect on officers worried about losing their jobs.
“The draft of the legislation starts from the premise that it is illegal to use any GPS tracking devices with certain exceptions, but those exceptions are not well thought through,” Wormeli said. “It doesn’t cover all the circumstances where an exception would be warranted.”
The law includes provisions that would allow usage of mobile data in the case of emergencies, national security concerns and other critical situations. But officials are concerned that making officers acquire a warrant to use geolocation information could cost lives.
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