Warrant Required to Tap Smartphone Location Under House Bill

U.S. law enforcement agencies would be required to obtain a warrant to access location data from an individual’s smartphone or navigation device under a bill introduced in Congress today.

The proposed legislation also would require companies to get consumers’ consent before selling or sharing their location data, according to the measure, which is co-sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican.

“Going to a communications company and asking them to turn somebody’s cell phone into a tracking device has a major privacy impact,” Wyden said at a news conference today.

The bill, which was introduced in the House and Senate, would require government agencies to obtain a warrant for geolocation data in the same way they would for a wiretap under current law, Wyden said.

Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who chairs the House Judiciary subcommittee on intellectual property, competition and the Internet, also signed on as a co- sponsor of the bill.

Lawmakers in recent months have increased scrutiny of how smartphones and tablet computers collect information on users’ location and movements. Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Google Inc. (GOOG), makers of software used in millions of smartphones, have defended their handling of user location data at a series of congressional hearings this year, saying they do not track individuals.

Leahy Bill

Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Apple, declined to comment. Google is reviewing the bill and had no immediate comment, company spokesman Dan Martin said in an e-mail.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced similar legislation in May, which would require the government to obtain a search warrant to access location data gathered from wireless devices. The Leahy bill did not address how companies should handle mobile location data.

The Wyden-Chaffetz bill introduced today would bring “much needed clarity” to legal issues around mobile location information, Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based privacy- rights group, said in an interview.

“There are dozens of published court decisions reaching different conclusions on whether or when the government needs a search warrant to track your cell phone or access records about your past location,” Bankston said. “It’s the Wild West out there.”

‘Necessary Step’

The bill is a “long overdue reform,” Ed Black, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a technology trade group representing companies including Google, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Facebook Inc., said in a statement posted on the group’s website.

“This bipartisan, bicameral legislation would protect people that use mobile devices from unnecessary government intervention into their private lives,” Black said. “It would provide new legal clarity for businesses facing various law enforcement requests for customer data.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Engleman in Washington at eengleman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Allan Holmes at aholmes25@bloomberg.net

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