The US state of Illinois is about to pass a law that makes it illegal to track a phone's location without the owner's consent.
The bill, dubbed the Geolocation Privacy Protection Act (HB3449), has been passed by both houses in the state legislature and now awaits the signature of Governor Bruce Rauner.
The bill makes it illegal for a company to track a person's geolocation without first getting permission. It sets criminal penalties and damages of at least $1,000 for working out a person's whereabouts from their device without permission.
"'Geolocation information' means information that: (i) is not the contents of a communication; (ii) is generated by or derived from, in whole or in part, the operation of a mobile device, including, but not limited to, a smart phone, tablet, or laptop computer; and (iii) is sufficient to determine or infer the precise location of that device," the bill reads.
Getting permission to collect the location data will require a company to state exactly how they plan on collecting the data and what they plan on using it for. Violating the law would be considered a criminal offense under the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.
The bill notes that IP addresses would not be covered, so you're still allowed to operate a website in Chicago. It also makes an exception for parents locating their children and those being tracked for legal reasons.
In practice, the bill may not have much of a real-world impact, as today's handhelds and computers tend to ask people to give the OK before location data is used by a website or app. Having said that, developers can trick users into inadvertently handing over permission to access their whereabouts – or simply bypass the checks and snoop on people's movements. This law puts a stop to those sorts of shenanigans by forcing software makers to be upfront and transparent about geolocation data usage.
The bill reaffirms Illinois as a haven for personal privacy and digital rights. The state made headlines earlier this year as one of two to write laws preserving consumer privacy protections from ISPs, and Chicago is one of the very few cities to make computer science a mandatory part of its school curriculum. ®