GPS Tracking for DUI Offenders

Having a device with a Global Positioning System (GPS) has become the norm today; our cars, phones, and other electronic devices are commonly equipped with GPS tracking. We use this feature to navigate city streets, find nearby stores or restaurants, and even to connect to people through dating applications (e.g. Tinder). However, we as consumers have the ability to choose whether we will enable GPS and whether we will allow programs to access this type of information.

The same may not be true for DUI offenders in Minnesota who partake in ignition interlock programs, as the Department of Public Safety (DPS) recently required all DUI offenders to install new ignition interlock systems with GPS tracking. DPS publicly announced the GPS feature would not collect or store data, and law enforcement would not use the feature for surveillance purposes. However, it would provide instant notification of a user violation, and let local authorities know exactly where the violator is at the time.

In response to this new rule which was scheduled to be implemented by January 1, 2017, Smart State Minnesota, a company that provides ignition interlock systems, sued the DPS. They claimed this type of warrantless tracking would violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The issue has not been settled at this point, but a Hennepin County Judge issued a temporary order in January to halt the installation of these devices while the matter is pending.

Smart State’s claim is consistent with recent decisions on GPS tracking, but this wasn’t always the case. In U.S. v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 27 (1983), the U.S. Supreme Court stated there was no expectation of privacy when a person uses public roads, and concluded the government would not need a warrant to conduct GPS tracking because it was not a search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. It wasn’t until 2012 that the U.S. Supreme Court fell the other way on the issue, in a unanimous decision no less, under U.S. v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012). A GPS locator of the defendant’s car was determined to be a search under the Fourth Amendment, and the Court stated a trespass occurred on the defendant’s personal property when a GPS locator was placed on his vehicle.

After DPS’s new rule was uncovered, legislators began to intervene. Currently, there is legislation pending that would put a stop to GPS tracking in ignition interlock devices, while at the same time limiting the DPS’s power to make new program rules at their own will. If this bill passes, it will be legislators and not the DPS who will create new rules for ignition interlock programs.

It is a little puzzling why the DPS would need GPS tracking on their ignition interlock machines. If the ignition interlock user gives a positive reading for alcohol, their vehicle will not turn on, and this eliminates the urgency factor as the violator will not be driving intoxicated. Furthermore, the agency monitoring the user, such as probation, is still notified and could pick up the violator at their work address, home address, or contact the violation through other means.

On the other hand, DPS has a valid public safety argument, through it is doubtful this type of argument will win against a constitutional claim. But if legislators pass this new bill, we may never find out.