The increased attention and efforts to curb DWIs has resulted in myriad new technology to assist the fight. However, in some cases, technology infringes upon individuals’ constitutional rights. The use of GPS technology in ignition interlock systems (IID) yields significant criminal law/defense questions regarding state efforts versus constitutional rights.

A recent investigation into the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) has uncovered evidence that over, the past several years, thousands of IIDs with GPS tracking capabilities were covertly installed in vehicles driven by DUI offenders. IIDs work by having the driver blow into a breath tester before the vehicle will start. These devices have enjoyed widespread acceptance, praise, and success for helping reduce drunk driving—particularly by repeat offenders.

The use of GPS trackers in IIDs is particularly troubling for first-time offenders who choose to use the devices and who have no driving restrictions. The DPS’s new rule requires that by December 1st, all DWI offenders required to use the device must install the systems at their own cost. However, largely unbeknownst to these drivers, the newer systems have wireless modem and GPS tracking capabilities to track and digitally store the vehicle’s movement.

DPS has asserted that it does not intend to collect or store GPS data; instead, it alleges that it will use the newer technology “for better ‘real-time’ information on the breathalyzer tests so [they] have the ability to respond quicker to violations.”

Perhaps even more troubling is that evidence demonstrates that five licensed IID manufacturers have permitted their devices to be installed in Minnesota DWI offenders with GPS capabilities for years—without telling the offenders about them. One company, Consumer Safety Technology (CST), that manufacturers the Intoxalock, has used GPS-fitted IIDs since 2011, while Alcohol Countermeasure Systems (ACS) has used its ALCOLOCK since 2015.

Fourth Amendment Violations

There has been substantial outcry that the added GPS capabilities violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that protects individuals from unlawful searches and seizures, and a number of Minnesota attorneys are planning to sue to the state as a result.

Opponents cite United States v. Jones, 565 US __ (2012), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held unanimously that law enforcement attachment of a GPS device to known drug offender Jones’ Jeep without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights. A similarity between Jones and the current issue is that police installed the GPS without Jones’ knowledge. Thus, covertly placing a GPS on the vehicles of every DWI offender without his/her consent or knowledge is a blatant constitutional violation. Even more troubling is that this practice has been going on since 2011.

State Representative Peggy Scott (R-Andover) who chairs the State’s House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee asserts that serious questions and concerns surround the legality of said devices, and she hopes the DPS reverses its decision before taxpayers will have to pay for the myriad lawsuits likely to ensue.

GPS in Law Enforcement

The fundamental question is how and when law enforcement can track offenders with GPS. Whereas other states use similar devices, none are the real-time devices Minnesota is and continues to wish to use. In these other states, the offender’s GPS data is downloaded weekly by his/her probation officer to track his/her movement. Thus, if there is evidence that the offender visited a bar or other establishment that serves alcohol then the probation officer can revoke probation and take other legal actions, if necessary. The real-time component of DPS-approved IIDs lies at the heart of the current Minnesota issue.

This differs from consensual use of GPS devices such as a probationer who agrees to wear a GPS tracker to retain driving privileges. When installation of any type of tracker occurs without the subject’s consent or knowledge, then constitutional questions arise.

DPS has refused any interview or public comment.