In United States v. Jones, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that FBI agents violated the Fourth Amendment when they attached a Global-Positioning-System (GPS) tracking device to a suspected drug dealer’s Jeep Cherokee and monitored the vehicle’s movements on public streets for 28 days without obtaining a warrant to do so. Justice Scalia wrote the Court’s opinion, with four justices joining the opinion – Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, and Clarence Thomas.

Sotomayor’s concurring opinion is worth noting for its detailed analysis of the chilling effect on associational and expressive freedoms that government monitoring via technology, like GPS surveillance, will have if left unchecked. She wrote:

“GPS monitoring generates a precise, comprehensive record of a person’s public movements that reflects a wealth of detail about her familial, political, professional, religious and sexual associations…The Government can store such records and efficiently mine them for information for years into the future…And because GPS monitoring is cheap in comparison to conventional surveillance techniques and, by design, proceeds surreptitiously, it evades the ordinary checks that constrain abusive law enforcement practices: ‘limited police resources and community hostility.’ “

Justice Alito, who also concurred in the majority opinion, argued for warrants based on the “reasonable expectation of privacy” standard, instead of the common law trespass test applied by Scalia. Alito, clearly troubled by the Court’s reliance on the law of trespass, points out that technology today allows for easy electronic monitoring, without any need to come into physical contact with the subject being tracked. He expresses concern over the “increased convenience” of new technology at the “expense of privacy,” and suggests that these “new intrusions on privacy” may motivate Congress to enact legislation addressing these “new intrusions” as it did with wiretapping. Sotomayor clearly agrees, but whether Congress will act obviously remains to be seen.

So, what does U.S. v. Jones mean for employers?

Private employers generally are not subject to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. However, it is certainly foreseeable that employees of private employers could cite to this case in support of claims that GPS monitoring, or any sort of electronic monitoring for that matter, during non-working hours violated their “reasonable expectation of privacy.” The question of whether this decision might influence courts as technology becomes more powerful, remains to be seen.

As such, it is imperative for employers, especially those who provide smart phones and company vehicles containing GPS monitoring devices to their employees, to adopt policies notifying their employees of the company’s right to monitor their actions while using Company owned property. These policies should also contain language notifying employees about the GPS monitoring capabilities of the Company-issued property and that they should not have an expectation of privacy while using the same.

In light of the contours of a “reasonable expectation of privacy” analysis and concerns over common law claims of intrusion upon one’s seclusion, employers should also avoid monitoring during non-work hours. In addition, where the data received from location tracking reveals details of an employee’s personal life, employers should not review it or be prepared to show that they have a legitimate business justification for looking at this type of information.

Finally, private employers in states like California may have more to be concerned about where constitutional privacy protections apply to the private sector. A number of states also have laws prohibiting the installation of a tracking device without the consent of the vehicle’s owner or lessor.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.