Geolocation Technology and Privacy

Hearing Date: March 2, 2016 10:00 am 2154 Rayburn House Office Building


  • Chairman Chaffetz and Ranking Member Cummings will review updated guidance issued by the Department of Justice post S. v. Jones. These memos provide guidance on the use of geolocation technology by federal law enforcement.
  • Various legal standards and guidelines are used to manage the use of geolocation technology at a local, state, and federal level. A clear standard is needed to govern the use of this technology.
  • Congress shouldn’t wait for the courts to decide legal standards. Legislative action is necessary for clarity on this issue.


  • To consider what the Fourth Amendment means in the digital age and examine the level of protection citizens have over their geolocation data.
  • To review law enforcement’s use of devices, data, and technology that obtain geolocation information of individuals.
  • To examine the Department of Justice’s policies and procedures governing the use of geolocation data.


  • This hearing follows an Oversight IT Subcommittee hearing on Stingray surveillance technology in October 2015.
  • The Supreme Court has provided limited clarification in recent years about whether a warrant is required for law enforcement to obtain geolocation information.
  • While the Court has now required a warrant for placing a GPS tracker on a private vehicle, and required a warrant before searching the contents of a cell phone, the Court has not yet weighed in on whether a warrant requirement exists for all geolocation information, such as OnStar or other wireless device transmissions that reveal geolocation over time.


Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT):“These are tough, difficult questions. I still struggle with how the Department of Justice considers geolocation. Is it metadata or is it content? Because the District Court ruled that it’s content. How does the Department of Justice view this information?”

Subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC): “You have a choice here today – to start to work it where we can help law enforcement enforce it and still protect our Fourth Amendment rights or you’re going to find yourself without a tool very quickly because I think there is a bipartisan desire here to make sure that the protection for all Americans is something that they should expect.”

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY): “This breeds mistrust when you don’t trust Congress. We are trusted with many other secrets of national importance and I think the people’s representatives –if not the people, at least the people’s representatives —deserve to know how the laws are being interpreted, and how they are going to affect them.”

Witnesses and testimonies

Name Title Organization Panel Document
Mr. Richard Downing Deputy Chief, Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section U.S. Department of Justice Document
Mr. Michael R. Doucette Commonwealth’s Attorney City of Lynchburg, Virginia Document
Mr. Paul J. Larkin Jr. Senior Legal Research Fellow, Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies The Heritage Foundation Document
Ms. Neema Singh Guliani Legislative Counsel American Civil Liberties Union Document