By Carl Tobias |
Police should be required to get authorization from a judge before they use technological gadgets to follow you 24/7. That's what the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act would require.
There's a reason people feel creeped out when they think someone is tracking their movements. Being followed is scary and invasive. Curious officers can learn about your trips to the cancer screening clinic, the psychiatrist, the plastic surgeon, the AIDS treatment center, the strip club, the divorce attorney, the union meeting, the mosque, synagogue, or church from the safety of the precinct. Your personal, professional, religious, and sexual conduct is easy and inexpensive to track down. If I'm a bad cop, and some are, I can abuse this information to blackmail, to bolster an otherwise inadequate legal case, to harass, and to threaten.
These abuses could have always taken place, but they were infinitely less likely just a few years ago. Then, innocent people were unlikely to be followed, because it wasn't worth the manpower. Mass surveillance was impossible. But modern GPS and cell phones have made it easy and cheap to follow anyone, or everyone, for any or no reason at all.
The GPS Act is a great idea because a warrant requirement is the best tool our legal system has to restore the balance and ensure that only suspicious people are tracked. Also, the GPS Act allows officers to start tracking immediately in case of emergencies, so the concern that legal checks and balances may get in the way of legitimate police action does not apply here.
With no warrant requirement, we give a green light to unwarranted police action. That means exactly what it sounds like. Officers could trail anyone (and everyone), without any reason, based on prejudice, corruption or whim. Police could engage in mass surveillance of groups of Americans based on race, religion, or political beliefs. Those surveilled get no notice, review, or remedy, and the entire enterprise would remain secret from courts and from the public.
If we are to be a government of laws, not of men, then police use of unprecedented surveillance power should be exercised fairly, uniformly, and honestly. The GPS Act would ensure that police do not snoop into our most private affairs for arbitrary, discriminatory, or retaliatory reasons.
About Jennifer S. Granick Director of Civil Liberties at the Center for Internet and Society
Ron Wyden U.S. Senator from Oregon
Catherine Crump Staff Attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project
Jason Chaffetz U.S. Representative from Utah
Trey Gowdy U.S. Representative from South Carolina
Joseph I. Cassilly Former President of the National District Attorneys Association