December 12, 2013

Chaffetz, Wyden Ask Holder to Release Unredacted Geolocation Memos

Lawmakers seek legal clarity for access and use of geolocation information

WASHINGTON– Today, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting the release of the two Department of Justice (DOJ) legal memoranda written in the wake of the 2012 Supreme Court case, United States v. Jones.

In Jones, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that physically attaching a GPS device to a vehicle constituted a search under the 4th Amendment. However, the Court did not specify whether the government was required to get a warrant for geolocation information, including that obtained from devices or methods such as smartphones or OnStar systems.

The DOJ memos allegedly give guidance on when GPS devices can be used in the course of investigations, as well as the application of the Jones case to other location-based technologies. DOJ publicly released these memos on February 27, 2012 and July 5, 2012, respectively. However, they were heavily redacted and did not provide sufficient information regarding DOJ’s position on tracking techniques.

“As Congress moves forward on geolocation legislation, it is critical that members of Congress understand DOJ's precise views on the current state of the law and existing legal requirements and protections,” the lawmakers write.

“The most significant question, in our view, is whether the Justice Department believes that Jones requires the government to get a warrant when obtaining an individual’s location information from a cell-phone provider or other private company,” the letter continues.

Additionally, Wyden and Chaffetz have worked together to write the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act. This bicameral, bipartisan legislation creates a legal framework designed to give government agencies, commercial entities, and private citizens clear guidelines for when and how geolocation information can be accessed and used.

A copy of the letter can be viewed here.