The Newnan Times-Herald


Georgia Says

  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Feb. 04, 2017 - 5:05 PM

Keeping an eye on your right to privacy

(Marietta Daily Journal)

There was no need for the shield until someone invented the arrow.

Legislators in the 2017 session need to create shields to protect a citizenry from the arrows of advancing technology.

Cases in point: drones and GPS technology.

Imagine that someone — friend or enemy, little sister or big brother — without your knowledge plants a device under the fender of your car that tracks the vehicle’s whereabouts 24/7. Or a drone hovering over your backyard pool, capturing images easily shared to the world online.

These examples illustrate the collision between a person’s right to gather information and a person’s right to privacy.

As powerful as GPS and UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) technology is (think mapping, driverless vehicles, etc.), it is, for the most part, unbridled.

In September, a Cobb Superior Court judge approved a jury trial for a woman who sued a Marietta-based private investigator for clandestinely placing a GPS tracking device on her car.

The detective agency argued the suit should be dismissed because “there is no statute” prohibiting it.

The judge, who did not throw out the case, said if there is no statute then “anybody can put a GPS tracking device on anyone else’s vehicle, and (as) long as it is done in a public place, it is not a crime …” The judge recommended the legislature take up the issue.

Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, intends to do just that.

“It’s a classic example of technology getting out in front of our laws. The technology has been around for a while, but in the last couple years, it has become extremely accessible and cheap. So I think this is going on a lot more than it ever has before,” Reeves said.

Indeed, one manufacturer’s online ad boasts “Use our web and mobile software to view vehicle locations, directions, speed and more with once-a-minute tracking when in motion and once-an-hour when stopped.” The tracking device is available for $39.99.

Reeves said consent should be a requirement for the placement of tracking devices short of a few exceptions such as parents tracking their children or caretakers tracking elderly patients.

“Right now, police officers are subject to much stricter regulations — they have to go before a judge and get a search warrant, and yet your next-door neighbor can stick a device on your vehicle,” Reeves said.

Drones outfitted with video cameras are filling the skies and becoming a pesky menace to those who feel their backyard barbecue should be attended by invited guests only.

A regulation bill was passed last year and vetoed by the governor. Still, state Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, believes the legislature must address the issue to sort out a “very complex mix of First Amendment rights of individuals, freedom of the press issues, privacy interests, public safety interests and federal regulations.”

Since the last session, the FAA has come out with rules governing the commercialization drone use last session that speaks to the commercialization of drones. The governor in vetoing the bill last year had some real concerns that the state was getting ahead of that federal process, Setzler said.

“Now that we have clarity from the federal government with respect to commercialization, I think we’ll be in a place to take that up again this session and address that. It will be an important issue for us this year.”

These topics are appropriate subjects for the Legislature to discuss. Keeping them simple will be a real challenge.

The advancement of drone and GPS technology opens worlds of opportunity, but it should not invade the private world of those who just want to be left alone.