Oregon senator, tech think tank engage on GPS tracking case

Vishal Ganesan Contributor
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Following Tuesday’s dramatic Supreme Court arguments during which Justice Stephen Breyer described the warrantless government GPS tracking of criminal suspects in Orwellian terms, other voices have begun to emerge in opposition to the policy.

TechFreedom, a free-market technology think tank, is promoting a petition at It urges Congress to require authorities to obtain warrants before accessing citizens’ digital information.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a 1986 statute that attempted to specify when and how authorities could access phone data and internet communications, does not explicitly forbid government agencies from accessing digital data without a warrant.

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) notes that “when first written, ECPA was a forward-looking statue that provided important privacy protections to subscribers of then-emerging wireless and Internet services.”

And despite the substantial technological develops in the last 25 years “the statute’s privacy standards have not been updated, leaving important information without full protection,” the CDT adds.

Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden penned a Huffington Post column Wednesday, acknowledging the limited scope of the court’s focus and advocating for legislation creating clear guidelines for digital surveillance.

Wyden argues that while traditional forms of tracking require law-enforcement agencies to dedicate personnel and time, “technological advances have made ’round-the-clock tracking of large numbers of people increasingly easy.”

Wyden believes the Supreme Court is likely to focus only on the need for authorities to obtain warrants prior to placing tracking devices on suspects’ cars.

But that, he says, would leave a number of issues unresolved. The use of GPS trackers by private citizens, for one. And law enforcement’s access to wireless phone company records and information about customers’ past movements.

Wyden introduced legislation in June that he claims would clarify the process. A press release said the bill would require “the government to show probable cause and get a warrant before acquiring the geolocational information of a U.S. person, while setting out clear exceptions such as emergency or national security situations or cases of theft or fraud.”

“Rather than waiting for future trials to determine rules that will impact every citizen,” Wyden concludes, “Congress should step in and write a law that takes every American’s rights into consideration.”

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