Suppose you’re being followed. Someone’s tracking your phone, or has placed a GPS device on your car. They know if you’re at home, or a pregnancy clinic, or church, or a gay bar. Depending on who’s tracking you, this could be a violation of your fundamental constitutional rights—or it could just be another day on the job.
The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures, but it only constrains the government’s actions. If local police or the FBI wants to track your car, they have to ask a judge for a warrant first. But if your boss wants to track your phone, it’s likely within his or her rights.
In fact, businesses track their employees’ locations all the time. Often, it’s to keep an eye on their equipment, like company vans or employer-issued cellphones. Other times, tracking helps bosses make sure their workers are clocking in and out on time, and that remote employees—like a technician or a plumber who makes house calls, for example—are indeed where they say they are. Tracking systems can also help employers make sure their employees are reporting mileage correctly, and that they aren’t taking detours between jobs to pick up groceries.
But GPS tracking doesn’t necessarily end when an employee’s shift does. If a worker is allowed to take a company vehicle home at night or over the weekend, it might continue sending its location. And a tracking app on a mobile phone can keep broadcasting an employee’s location during his or her off hours.