CHICAGO -- Legislation that limits law enforcement  access to "real time" location information created by  smartphones and other electronic devices is being hailed as a critical step forward for personal privacy in the emerging technological age. Location tracking has become increasingly available to law enforcement, providing very precise "real time" information about one's current location. The measure has been approved by the Senate Criminal Law Committee and sent to the floor of the Illinois Senate.

Senate Bill 2808, introduced by State Senator Daniel Biss requires law enforcement agencies to obtain a court order (based on probable cause of a crime) before obtaining current or future location information from an individual's electronic device.  There are emergency exceptions to the requirement, including when a user makes an emergency call from an electronic device.

"Many Americans do not realize that the smartphone they rely on each day also provides a very accurate record of their location and where they travel," said State Senator Daniel Biss, sponsor of the legislation.  "In 2011, phone carriers received as many as 1.3 million demands for information about subscribers, including information about a subscriber's location."
"There must be evidence of some crime or emergency before law enforcement collects this personal data about us."

As a federal appeals court recently acknowledged, knowing where someone goes reveals a great deal of information about who you are what you value.  The  court noted, knowing another person's whereabouts reveals "whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, and associate of particular individuals or political groups."  In recent months, the media has reported on a number of instances in which law enforcement agencies have sought location information about subscribers for reasons that do not relate to the investigation of a crime.

Congress has not updated laws that protect personal privacy on-line since the mid-1980s, before any of us carried smartphones.

"This is an opportunity for the legislature to move ahead and provide appropriate privacy protections for Illinoisans. " added Mary Dixon of the ACLU of Illinois.  "We look forward to this measure advancing in the Senate and the House and being signed into law by the Governor."