Governmental Tracking of Cell Phones and Vehicles: The Confluence of Privacy, Technology, and Law [December 1, 2011]   [open pdf - 341KB]

"Technology has advanced considerably since the framers established the constitutional parameters for searches and seizures in the Fourth Amendment. What were ink quills and parchment are now cell phones and the Internet. It is undeniable that these advances in technology threaten to diminish privacy. Law enforcement's use of cell phones and GPS [Global Positioning System] devices to track an individual's movements brings into sharp relief the challenge of reconciling technology, privacy, and law. [...] Legislation has been introduced in the 112th Congress that proposes to update, clarify, or, in some instances, strengthen the privacy interests protected under the law and give law enforcement a clearer framework for obtaining crucial crime-fighting information. [...] Congress is not the only branch confronting this tension between technology and privacy--the Supreme Court has granted certiorari in 'United States v. Jones', 131 S. Ct. 3064 (2011), to determine whether the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures precludes the police from placing a GPS device on a person's vehicle without a warrant. Though the Court has dealt with similar issues in 'United States v. Knotts', 460 U.S. 276 (1983), and 'United States v. Karo', 468 U.S. 705 (1984), in 'Jones', the Court has been asked to determine what effect the prolonged, warrantless use of a tracking device has on a person's privacy interest. This report will briefly survey Fourth Amendment law as it pertains to the government's tracking programs. It will then summarize federal electronic surveillance statutes and the case law surrounding cell phone location tracking. Next, the report will describe the GPS-vehicle tracking cases and review the pending Supreme Court GPS tracking case, 'United States v. Jones'. Finally, the report will summarize the geolocation and electronic surveillance legislation introduced in the 112th Congress."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, R42109
Public Domain
Retrieved From:
Federation of American Scientists: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/index.html
Media Type:
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