Wired reports that Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mark Udall (D-Colorado) have drafted a letter addressed to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper with a simple, straight forward question: “Do government agencies have the authority to collect the geolocation information of American citizens for intelligence purposes?”
Wydan and Udall are both members of a Senate intelligence oversight committee that monitors sixteen intelligence agencies. The Senators want to know how these agencies currently interpret laws governing the surveillance of U.S. citizens via electronic mediums, such as the Patriot Act.
A copy of the letter, which was obtained by Danger Room, goes on to state:
“[R]ecent advances in geolocation technology have made it increasingly easy to secretly track the movements and whereabouts of individual Americans on an ongoing, 24/7 basis... Law enforcement agencies have relied on a variety of different methods to conduct this sort of electronic surveillance, including the acquisition of cell phone mobility data from communications companies as well as the use of tracking devices covertly installed by the law enforcement agencies themselves,” the letter from the Senators states.
Senator Wyden began drafting legislation last spring that would require law enforcement officials to obtain a court-ordered search warrant before conducting electronic tracking operations on cars and cell phones.
The bill would secure U.S. citizen's privacy in regards to the use of GPS and wireless device location monitoring in the course of investigations.
“Clearly Congress needs to also understand how intelligence authorities are being interpreted as it begins to consider legislation on this issue,” the letter from the Senators contends.
Laws that currently govern tracking and monitoring where drafted years ago before the advent of today's wireless technology, and multiple court decisions have sided with both plaintiffs and defendants, leaving much room for interpretation.
"I think that a lot of people have not really put their arms around the dimensions of this, the fact that everybody's got a handheld electronic device, a cell phone, a GPS system. Everybody's carrying them around everywhere and probably aren't thinking that much about the fact that someone may be keeping tabs on them," Senator Wyden said previously.
The bill will also address how geolocation information stored on systems that detail an individuals previous whereabouts should be governed in investigations.
The proposed legislation, called the Geolocational Privacy and Surveillance Act (GPS Act) pits service providers, privacy advocates and civil liberties groups against a multiple law enforcement organizations.
The Justice Department has argued that citizens have no reasonable expectation of privacy concerning stored records detailing the location of their cell phones, and other law enforcement officials have speculated that requiring warrants for mobile surveillance will hinder investigations.
Privacy advocates insist that geolocation monitoring and records should be considered in the same light as the wiretapping of citizen's communications, arguing that protections would not prevent tracking or access to stored records by law enforcement, but would simply require they make a case for due cause before a judge and obtain a warrant first.