Bills Related to Geolocation and Online Privacy Being Considered by U.S. House and Congress

As mobile devices and other technology utilize location-based data and maintain more detailed records than ever before, pre-existing laws and regulations may not properly govern how to treat this data as it was not foreseen at the time of writing, and as a result new privacy issues arise. The U.S. is considering two separate bills that address these modern privacy concerns related to geolocation and online forms of communication.


Technology progresses quickly and often leaves laws and regulations with the need to catch up. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) dictates some regulation regarding electronic transmissions, but passed in 1986 this act could not fully foresee the mass adoption of email, instant messages or Tweets. As it stands today, the ECPA allows any email or electronic transmission that has been open and is over 180 days old to be read and used for investigations without a warrant and only requiring a subpoena. With the regulations existing in this capacity today it is likely that many emails have been subpoenaed and seized, such as the case with the IRS suggesting investigators obtain private emails in one of their internal handbooks.


The Online Communications and Geolocation Protection Act (OCGPA) seeks to update this law and require that a search warrant be obtained for many types of electronic communications to not only included emails and peer-to-peer messages, but also geolocation data. The OCPGA seeks to prevent service providers, such as mobile network operators, from sharing a user’s geolocation data voluntarily and requiring that the party seeking this information must have a warrant.


Another bill under consideration is the Geolocation Privacy and Surveilance (GPS) Act which would require a warrant for police or government officials to obtain location data from an individual’s mobile device, car or other electronic device. A warrant would be required for both tracking one’s location in real-time as well for obtaining past geolocation records. Additionally, the bill seeks to make it a crime for a person to use an electronic device of any form to track another person’s location without their knowledge while also requiring service providers to receive user consent to collect location data or share it with any third parties. Representative Jason Chaffetz, one of several lawmakers that introduced the bill, elaborated that as new technology makes it very easy keep track of an individual’s location “we need to make sure laws are keeping up with technology to protect our privacy.”


For More Information:


House to Discuss Revamping Outdated Email Privacy Law


Online Communications and Geolocation Protection Act (PDF)


Lawmakers push bill to limit GPS tracking