In recent news, non-profit group Minnesotans for Safe Driving has reported it opposes new state rules requiring that newer ignition interlock systems have GPS data collecting capability. According to Jon Cummings, Minnesotans for Safe Driving founder, adding GPS data capacity is “not a good idea and was done kind of sneaky” because it was not made available to the public who allegedly felt blindsided. He stated that the added GPS capacity is likely to make some people who choose to use the device change their minds, especially if they feel the Department of Public Safety (DPS) is tracking their movement. Cummings adds that this addition may ultimately undermine a program that has enabled the state to enjoy a significant reduction in repeat DUI/DWI offenders.
The Rise of Ignition Interlock Use
Ignition interlock systems have gained widespread popularity across the country to address the problem of repeat DWI and DUI offenders. Quite simply, the devices attach to the vehicle and before a person can start the vehicle, s/he must blow into the device. If the device detects alcohol, it prevents the vehicle from being started. The rise in popularity of these devices has led car manufacturers to install such devices as standard equipment in some newer vehicles.
In Minnesota, as of 1 July 2011, first-time DUI/DWI offenders with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above 0.16—as well as all second-time offenders—can choose to participate in the state’s ignition interlock device program in order to regain driving privileges. More serious offenders such as drivers whose licenses were canceled after they were found “inimical to public safety” must enroll in the program for three to six years in order to have the opportunity to regain their full driving privileges.
According to the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) legal director Teresa Nelson, the GPS capabilities added to newer ignition interlock systems is unconstitutional. She cites United States v. Jones (2012), in which the United States Supreme Court held that the warrantless use of a GPS tracking device on Jones’ vehicle to monitor his movements on public streets violated Jones’ Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure. In Jones, at issue was the suspicion that Jones was trafficking narcotics and the unlawful placing of a tracking device on the defendant’s Jeep.
Thus, Nelson argues that without a warrant—or an exception to the warrant requirements such as is the case with exigent circumstances, search incident to arrest, and the plain view doctrine—monitoring someone’s movement without a warrant violates that person’s Fourth Amendment protections.
While reducing the number of impaired driving accidents and fatalities is, indeed, a compelling government interest, the Court has always emphasized the necessity to weigh this interest against the potential infringement of an individual’s constitutional rights.
State lawmakers are asking the same questions by gathering research to determine what prompted the DPS to make the rule change and what, exactly, the agency changed. Like the ACLU, lawmakers are also concerned about using GPS tracking capabilities to monitor citizens’ movement without adequate probable cause to obtain a warrant.
As would be expected, DPS has refused all requests for on-camera interviews; however, it does stress that the new ignition interlock devices are only using the GPS to collect “real-time data from DUI offenders” but the agency has no intention of actually using, collecting, or storing the GPS information. Instead, DPS claims that the interlock manufacturer will be the only one that can access GPS data and the company has safeguards in place to prevent information misuse.