Editorial: GPS the next logical step

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, was a happy man June 25 when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the government must get a warrant before it goes trolling through the information you’ve stored on your cellphone.

Happy, yes. But not completely satisfied.

It’s still legal for the federal government to track you through the GPS included on that phone or the one that’s in your car or on your wrist. That power, he believes, must be curbed.

He, more than most Oregonians, should know. He’s been a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee for a decade or more, and he has long believed the law needs to catch up with life in the digital age, at least where privacy is concerned.

Thus he has worked to rein in the National Security Agency’s habit of gathering millions of telephone records as a matter of routine, and thus he continues to work to require the government to obtain a warrant before it tracks you through your GPS.

Like the cellphone, the GPS is a wonderful tool when used correctly. It can get you where you want to go without the hassle of having to stop and read a map. Law enforcement can use it to track a lost child, or lost adult, for that matter.

It can also be used by agencies ranging from the NSA to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to track whomever they please, wherever and whenever they please. Unless they’re required to go to court to get a warrant — and for now they’re not — you may never know. They do so, they’re likely to tell you, in the name of national security.

Wyden hopes the high court’s position on cellphone data will be mirrored in any ruling it might make on warrantless GPS surveillance. We do too. The court did not flatly outlaw getting data from cellphones; it did say warrants are required, and in a genuine emergency, they may be obtained after the fact.

That strikes a reasonable balance between the right to privacy and the need for information. A similar decision on GPS would simply extend that balance.