Mobile Location Privacy a Hot Topic on Capitol Hill

By  |  Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm

An effort to ensure consumers know how their mobile location data is being used and shared is underway on Capitol Hill, with a bipartisan bill now making its way through Congress. Called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act, the bill was written by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

The bill was simultaneously introduced in both the House and Senate today.

It aims to codify how companies may use and share data, as well as giving consumers more power in consenting to such tracking. In addition, the legislation provides guidelines on how government and law enforcement may use the location data on wireless phones.

While Wyden and Chaffetz said that it is a good thing that such technology exists, they also said there is a lack of regulation surrounding how this data can be shared or used. “It is the job of Congress to protect and defend the United States Constitution and the personal liberties provided to American citizens under the Fourth Amendment,” Chaffetz said.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches without a warrant, and Wyden and Chaffetz would like to extend these protections to mobile location data. It would also regulate how such data could be admissible as evidence in court.

Wyden and Chaffetz’s efforts are likely to be welcomed by privacy advocates who have sounded the alarm that such data could be used by the government to spy on its citizens. Obviously, there would be extenuating circumstances where no warrant would be required, but for the most part law enforcement or the government would be prohibited from snooping without cause.

A similar bill has also been introduced by Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). That legislation, called the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2011, would compel companies to inform when they collect location data, and give consumers the right to opt out if they desire.

Either way, it’s good to see such efforts beginning in Capitol Hill. Right now, the U.S .has no protections for its citizens regarding our mobile location data. It’s time we did.

 
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