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Government Technology Featured Article

August 01, 2012

Congress Debates GPS Act

By Julie Griffin, Contributing Writer

Historians can trace the origins of global positioning systems (GPS) to the1940’s. But it wasn’t until last year that the GPS Act was established by U.S. Congress. The purpose of the act is to protect the privacy of individuals by requiring warrants before law enforcement uses this technology. But there is still a problem: the GPS technology referenced in the act does not pertain to mobile devices. Today, Congress is currently debating over proposals to make additional amendments.

Democratic Senator Ron Wydon of Oregon is among the congress members in support of new amendments to the GPS Act. He said, “Because the law has not kept up with the pace of innovation, it makes sense to include the GPS Act’s requirement that law enforcement obtain a warrant for GPS tracking in the Cybersecurity Act. This will protect Americans’ location information from misuse. Part of the goal of the cybersecurity legislation is to update rules for information collection and privacy for the digital age, which is what the GPS Act is all about.”

But Republican Trey Gowdy of South Carolina reveals how updating the law to meet modern technology is not exactly simple. He said, “No one complains when law enforcement uses technology in the form of DNA analysis, fingerprint analysis, voice exemplars, blood spatter, or court-approved wiretapping to investigate and ultimately solve cases. At the same time, technology often outpaces the law, and our fundamental sense of privacy is offended by ubiquitous surveillance simply because technology allows it.”

Rep. Gowdy also mentioned that wording the act by requiring that law enforcement have “probable cause” in order to warrant GPS tracking, is basically restricting the use of GPS until there is enough evidence to justify an arrest. Instead, he argued, “articulable suspicion” would be appropriate enough the same as it was for police officers to follow suspects by foot.

Pennsylvania’s current legal situation is an example of how lawmakers are identifying a need to update their laws to match current technology. When district attorneys in the state of Pennsylvania realized that criminals were slipping through the cracks and identified their ten-year-old wiretapping law as an obstacle for law enforcement, they proposed that new amendments be made. Wiretapping also requires warrant beforehand.

Social media has presented other issues for lawmakers. Surveys indicate that law enforcement is using social media more and more to search for evidence. So far, issues over whether Facebook’s ‘like’ is protected by the First Amendment or if Twitter (News - Alert) can be subpoenaed have been addressed in courtrooms across the U.S.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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