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The Constitutionality of GPS-Enabled Ignition Interlock Devices

Heightened awareness of and increased attention on the growing DWI/DUI problem have resulted in new and increasingly sophisticated technology to help the fight. In some cases, however, this technology may infringe on individuals’ constitutional rights. Case in point: the use of GPS technology in ignition interlock devices (IIDs) raises such constitutionality questions and whether the state has a compelling government interest to warrant intrusion into citizens’ rights.

Problems with GPS-Enabled Iids

IIDs work by having the motorist blow into a breath tester that measures blood alcohol concentration (BAC) before the vehicle will start. IIDs have been praised for their success in helping reduce drunk driving and, therefore, have enjoyed considerable acceptance and use.

According to a recent investigation by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS), over the past several years thousands of IIDs with GPS tracking capabilities were installed in vehicles driven by DWI/DUI offenders without these offenders’ knowledge. The use of GPS-enabled IIDs is a particular problem for first-time DWI/DUI offenders who willingly choose to use the devices and who have no driving restrictions.

The DPS has proposed a new rule that requires all DWI/DUI offenders mandated to use the device to install the systems at their own cost by 1 December. However, newer systems contain wireless modem and GPS tracking capabilities that can be used to track and digitally store the vehicle’s movement. Even though DPS has claimed that it does not intend to collect and/or store this GPS data but simply wants to use the technology for improved “real-time” information to enable officers to respond more quickly to violations, collecting such information without the person’s knowledge creates a very slippery slope.

Even more troubling is that five of the Minnesota-licensed IID manufacturers have been installing GPS-enabled IIDs in Minnesota DWI/DUI offenders’ vehicles for years, oftentimes without telling the offenders, and this practice has been ongoing since 2011.

Law Enforcement Use of GPS

Even though other states use GPS technology to track offenders, such as is the case with ankle monitors, none operate in real-time. Instead, data is usually downloaded weekly to offenders’ parole or probation officers to track their movement. Any questionable travel is then addressed by the officers with the offender. Additionally, many probationers or parolees agree to wear the GPS device to remain out of prison or jail.

Fourth Amendment Violations

At issue are the potential Fourth Amendment violations covert GPS trackers raise. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from unlawful, warrantless searches and seizures without sufficient probable cause, and several Minnesota attorneys are planning to sue the state over these concerns.

The most relevant and oft-cited case is United States v. Jones, 565 US __ (2012), in which the U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, held that law enforcement attachment of a GPS device to the defendant’s vehicle without a warrant violated his constitutional rights, even though the defendant was a known drug offender. Similarly, covertly installing a GPS tracker in every DWI/DUI offenders’ vehicle without the individuals’ knowledge or consent would also be unconstitutional.

Representative Peggy Scott (R-Andover) who chairs Minnesota’s House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee urges the DPS to reverse its rule before taxpayers begin footing the bill for the numerous Fourth Amendment lawsuits that will likely ensue.

A FINAL NOTE

It is not the use of GPS-enabled IIDs that is the problem. Instead, the covert installation and real-time aspect of these Minnesota DPS-approved IIDs are, and, therefore, raise constitutional questions not applicable to voluntary and knowing use of GPS trackers. DPS has not been reachable for comment as to whether it will reconsider its decision based on the potential constitutional violations that exist.

For more information, or for any assistance with other DWI/DUI issues, please contact us.