State of the Mobile Net Panel Discusses Pros & Cons of Mobile Phone Location Services

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on May 15, 2013


Since the Supreme Court’s decision last year on the Jones case mandated that law enforcement must have a warrant to track suspects using a GPS device, mobile phone location privacy has garnered growing Congressional attention. Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced the GPS Act (Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act (H.R.1312) to the House in March with the goal of establishing clear guidelines for when and how geolocation information can be accessed and used by government agencies, commercial entities and private citizens. In April, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the Online Communications and Geolocation Protection Act (H.R.983) which would amend the federal criminal code to require a search warrant to obtain geolocation information. While Congress debates the issue, American consumers everywhere are continuing to weave location-based services into their daily lives more than ever before.

This was the topic of conversation during the May 9 2013 State of the Mobile Net panel, “Mobile Location: The Policies of Where.” During the panel discussion, experts discussed how citizens are using cell phone location technology and explored the possible advantages and pitfalls associated with the innovation. The panel also delved into some of the legislative and legal issues about which Congress needs to be aware.

Particular points of interest from the discussion include:

  • Jason Weinstein mentioned that a “one size fits all” approach to privacy law won’t work—for example, location data from cell phone towers and GPS data is different (GPS is more precise) so it should be treated differently. Jason Weinstein is currently a Partner with Steptoe & Johnson; and is a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice.
  • Brian Chase discussed that while consumers are especially excited to use location-based apps for directions, weather and restaurant reviews, it is important to keep in mind that they are still getting used to obtaining these services for free (and what using these services means for their personal privacy). Brian Chase is General Counsel with Foursquare Labs Inc.
  • Stephanie Pell discussed how consumers (and Congress) need to keep in mind that when people choose to share information with a third party (through a mobile device), they give up their own privacy rights. Stephanie Pell is a Principal with SKP Strategies LLC; formerly Counsel on the House Judiciary Committee; and formerly a Federal Prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • Brian Chase stressed that Congress definitely needs to pass legislation to ensure the rules of sharing location data are clearer—but, as Pell mentioned, when creating new rules, legislators need to remember that since mobile phone technology is constantly evolving, reformed laws may be necessary on a rolling basis.

A video of the full “Mobile Location: The Policies of Where” panel discussion is available online.