Protecting Privacy in the Technology Age: The Scope of GPS Tracking of Public Sector Employees in the Wake of U.S. v. Jones

Source: Alan M. Klinger, Stroock Reports – Public Employee Law, Summer 2012
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Technology has reshaped workplace life. For the most part, technological advancements have enhanced productivity and made the workplace more efficient. But with progress often come concerns, one being that some technologies offer new ways of monitoring employees, such as the increasing use by employer s of global positioning system (“GPS”) technology in vehicles, cell phones, and other equipment, to monitor employee movements. This scrutiny is distressing and undesirable to many employees, who have recently seen alarming intrusions on their privacy. Indeed, public sector employees face a greater risk of these “Big Brother” monitoring techniques by their public sector employers because Fourth Amendment law – prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures, and utilized as a touchstone in employment cases – considers public sector employees to have a diminished expectation of privacy at work. The implications of such use of GPS technology have not eluded the courts – both state and federal courts have ruled on the constitutionality of GPS monitoring in various contexts. Most recently, the United States Supreme Court decided United States v. Jones, which may positively alter the legal landscape regarding when and how the government may use technology to monitor individuals. Jones involved the appeal of a convicted criminal, Antoine Jones, who argued that evidence obtained by the warrantless use of a GPS device placed on his wife’s personal car violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Although the Court unanimously affirmed the D.C. Circuit’s decision to reverse Jones’ conviction, the precise contours of the Court’s holding are complex. This article examines the significance of Jones and the impact it could have on curbing GPS supervision of public sector employees.

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