DUI Laws Update Part 1: Location-Tracking Ignition Systems: NMA E-Newsletter #424

If you are one of 11,000 convicted drunk drivers in Minnesota, your car whereabouts are currently known through GPS tracking. Apparently, Department of Public Safety (DPS) officials had implemented a GPS location-tracking for interlock ignition systems without the backing of the state legislature.

Representative Peggy Scott (R-Andover) says that when the legislature passed the interlock law for Minnesota drunk drivers in 2010 there was no intention to grant state officials the power to use GPS to track motorists’ whereabouts.  She adds that this is overreach and may indeed be unconstitutional. A bi-partisan group of lawmakers including co-sponsor Rep. Scott, have put forth Minnesota bill H.F.179 which would stop the use of GPS tracking of DUI offenders who use an ignition interlock device.

If a motorist is convicted of drunk driving, he or she may be required to hardwire an ignition interlock device into their vehicle. Convicted drunk drivers must blow into an interlock device to check for sobriety every time he or she gets behind the wheel to drive. If the driver cannot prove sobriety, the DPS can locate the driver immediately using the GPS signal and then notify law enforcement.

Ignition interlock systems, including Minnesota’s, don’t allow a vehicle to be started, let alone moved, if sobriety isn’t verified.  The issue with GPS isn’t tracking convicted DUI offenders who might be driving drunk again, it is that DPS is tracking the movements of these motorists regardless of their state of sobriety.

According to DPS spokesperson Bruce Gordon, having the instant reporting of user violations allows the department to take immediate action instead of having to wait 30 days to look at the driver’s logs which had been the case previously. While the real-time reporting is required for all the interlock devices, Gordon said that DPS does not use or store data that has been gathered beyond the day of tracking.

H.F.179 co-sponsor Rep. John Leach (DFL-St.Paul) says the state has dealt with challenges on citizen’s privacy before concerning data gathered through cellphone tracking, police body cameras and automatic license plate readers or ALPRs.  He says he’s frustrated and adds, “I’m extremely surprised we’ve reached a point where not only were those cautionary tales not heeded, but they were in fact seemingly summarily ignored by initiative to include tracking information with a program that was not in any way intended to go in that direction when it was originally passed.”

One of the five companies that is allowed to handle interlock devices in Minnesota, Smart Start, has repeated in numerous news reports that the company is opposed to GPS tracking of DUI offenders.

As of Thursday, February 23, H.F. 179 has survived two committees in the Minnesota Legislature. It was passed out of the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee and now will go before the Government Operations Committee. In this week’s hearing, Rep. Scott mentioned that she has learned since proposing the bill, that the GPS can actually be turned off the device but instant reporting can still occur which allows DPS to work with the convicted DUI motorist more quickly.

During this week’s hearing, two other groups had representatives that testified for the bill. An ACLU spokesperson said that the expansion of the GPS tracking constitutes a search under the 4th Amendment. A spokesperson for the Minnesota Criminal Defense Lawyers testified that his group had concerns that subpoenas could be obtained to use GPS information on the location-tracking interlock devices in other types of court cases that have nothing to do with the DUI conviction.

The bill plus two amendments were approved out of committee. The first amendment would allow all DUI convicted Interlock participants to be informed that their devices are wireless and have the capability of GPS tracking. The second amendment to the bill would allow GPS-tracking to be turned on by court order if needed.

Minnesota lawmakers are right in legislating this change in the state’s DUI law. The state’s desire to track every movement of DUI offenders – particularly knowing that some of those convicted weren’t necessarily driving impaired – should never be at the expense of individual constitutional rights. In next week’s part two, we will explore an even more draconian wave of DUI laws that involve physically checking in twice per day.

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