Since Chicago’s Mobile Food Vendor Ordinance passed in 2012, local food truck owners and operators have been fighting against the restrictive ordinance and the various court rulings that upheld the confining regulations limiting how and where these small businesses can operate throughout the city. Arguably one of the most invasive outcomes from this ruling was that food truck operators are required to have GPS systems installed in their trucks so that the city has access to the location of the truck at all times. Unfortunately, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld this regulation last month in the most recent attempt to overturn the law.
Chicago is unique in many ways, one being that it is one of the only cities in the United States that regulates its entrepreneurial citizens with this GPS requirement. Small business owners are now faced with a challenge to maintain their integrity and privacy or to make a living and provide for their families. To say that it is shocking that those two rights do not go hand in hand is an understatement, and many food truck operators would agree.
One of the most compelling arguments in the Supreme Court ruling was the interpretation of the 4th amendment. Partisans of the food truck and small business point of view argue that the real-time location information that the mandatory GPS transmits would be considered the equivalent of a search under the 4th amendment. This brought forth a disagreement on what exactly would constitute as an unreasonable search as per the amendment’s protection.
The court defended the GPS monitoring by stating that city licensing is conditioned upon food truck owners abiding by certain location requirements when operating in the city. They argued that since the GPS location information is transferred to a third party provider, rather than to the city directly, it does not violate the constitutional rights. Furthermore, the court advised that because the food truck owners install this GPS in their property themselves, it is not in violation of any rights by essentially consenting to the tracking of their location.
Food truck owners and those who support local Illinois small businesses counter those arguments by standing behind their privacy rights. They see the GPS requirements to be an intrusion of privacy on their operations. Food trucks can be monitored in other ways that are far less invasive, especially with the digital and social media that are around today. The GPS requirement is gratuitous and not of the government’s interest. This would make the ruling unconstitutional as the competition between food trucks and brick and mortar restaurants is not of reasonable interest to Illinois government.
The lack of governmental support for small businesses in Chicago has long been a prevalent issue. However, food truck owners are not ready to give up yet. They now face obstacles greater than their competition that they can, hopefully, overcome.