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Privacy United States

Ruling on GPS Tracking Devices 180

Posted by michael
from the unwarranted-surveillance dept.
djembe2k writes "Score one for civil liberties. The NY Times is carrying a wire story (free reg. required, yadda) reporting that the Supreme Court of Washington state ruled today that a warrant is required by police to use GPS tracking devices to track suspects. A warrant actually was obtained in the case at hand, but the prosecutors argued that they hadn't really needed one, and they lost on this point. Here's the full text of the ruling."
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Ruling on GPS Tracking Devices

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  • by gatesh8r (182908) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:16AM (#6950240)
    Look here [boston.com].
  • No Reg Links (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:18AM (#6950248)

    Honestly people, why keep linking to the "reg required" links?

    NYTimes Story [nytimes.com]
    Alternate story [charleston.net]

    • Re:No Reg Links (Score:3, Interesting)

      by flonker (526111)
      Why doesn't /. become a NYT partner, and automatically replace all NYT links with partner links. They link to enough articles that I feel like I'm reading the NYT anyway.
  • Hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wmspringer (569211) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:20AM (#6950257) Homepage Journal
    Not sure what I think about this. On the one hand, I have to favor any ruling that increases privacy. On the other hand, what IS the difference between using a GPS device to track someone and just following him around? Is it merely that it allows someone to be tracked without significant effort or expense, thus expanding how much information can be collected with limited resources?
    • Re:Hmm (Score:4, Funny)

      by Txiasaeia (581598) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:32AM (#6950304)
      Or, one could argue that, by being followed in the first place, they obviously committed a crime and the police are just in the usage of GPS technology.

      I, for one, welcome our new GPS overlords.

      • by n0nsensical (633430) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:35AM (#6950316)
        It's not the job of the police to determine whether someone is guilty of a crime; that's what juries are for.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          It is the job of the police to determine if enough evidence exists to capture and charge a person with being guilty of a crime. I would hate to live in your world where anyone can be dragged up on any charges and left to the mercy of a jury.
          • by n0nsensical (633430) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:44AM (#6950347)
            Even so, there's a difference between obviously having committed a crime and being suspected of having committed a crime.
            • Having read about this case in my local newspaper, I think the police were actually correct in their usage of this technology and the judge fouled it up. The judge ruled that the warrant for the usage of the GPS tracker wasn't right. That's messed up. The police suspected that this guy killed a(his?) kid so they got a warrant and put a GPS tracker on his car. The guy leads them out to where he buried the body.

              He says he found the child dead already, in bed. Got scared. Went out and buried the body. Right.
        • by Txiasaeia (581598) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:44AM (#6950348)
          It's also obviously not the job of /. posters to determine whether the parent was speaking earnestly or sarcastically.
        • Bah. Back in the day, cops could let people off with warnings or take delinquent kids home to their parents instead of to juvie. A few cries of discrimination (some justified, some not) ruined it for everyone, and now it's the offical job of police to be fucking assholes all the damn time.

          The problem is, a lot of judges and juries still have have this attitude that "if you weren't a heinous criminal, you wouldn't be in my courtroom..."

    • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by prospero14 (233659) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:40AM (#6950335)
      what IS the difference between using a GPS device to track someone and just following him around?

      According to the nyt article, the ruling states that a warrant is required to attach a GPS device to a suspect's vehicle. I think there is a clear philosophical (and constitutional) difference between following someone around a placing an electronic bug on their car. Thus this ruling is not just about privacy, but also about the sanctity of private property.

      As surveilence technology becomes more prevelant and more sophisticated, this ruling may be an important precedent indeed.
      • by 56ker (566853)
        "As surveilence technology becomes more prevelant"

        I survey you committing a spelling mistake. ;)
        • Re:Hmm (Score:3, Funny)

          by toast0 (63707)
          Your bad joke is an aggravating factor in sentencing you for the crime of spelling harassment.

      • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ScrewMaster (602015) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:05AM (#6951201)
        Yes, and hopefully by requiring a warrant they require that the judiciary be involved in any police surveillance activities using GPS: that, after all, is the point of having a warrant. A judge is supposed to always be in the loop to determine if what the police are proposing to do with a suspect is legal, just, and/or necessary. Judges aren't perfect, of course, but that's a hell of a lot better than just letting the cops do whatever they please. The police, of course, resent that oversight because they perceive it as being invasive, after all, who wants to have someone looking over their shoulder? Perhaps they should look to their own feelings in that regard before they go planting GPS boxes in people's cars.
    • It's more than an issue of cost savings. WA has previously ruled that cops can't go around checking houses for strange infrared patterns without a warrant (grow operations). As technology progresses, it will become easier and easier to peer through walls into your private affairs. This case is good because it says that even though we may be able to do those things, before the police are allowed to, they must show at least a little evidence that the search is reasonable. Note that getting a warrant does
      • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Informative)

        by afidel (530433) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @02:37AM (#6950513)
        Actually it was the Supreme Court of the United States in Kyllo V. U.S. that the majority stated:

        "Thus, obtaining by sense-enhancing technology any information regarding the home's interior that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical intrusion into a constitutionally protected area constitutes a search"

        This can be logically extended to cover any activity not occouring in full public view and to any technological augmentation of the police's natural abilities. That case was arguably the most important one heard by this supreme court because they basically decided that advancement of technology does not give the police an unlimited liscense to observe the populace.
        • for the use of thermal imaging cameras, previously used to detect indoor cultivation of Marijuana.

          IIRC, the decision came down from the SCOTUS a year or so ago, split 5/4; Scalia wrote the majority decision. It involved a case where police used a thermal imaging (FLIR) camera.

          Many cultivators of marijuana use enormous grow lights inside their homes. Despite the fact that they cover the inside of the home with aluminum foil (ostensibly to maximize their grow lights), such operations are easily detectable
    • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:51AM (#6950380)
      Sure, and the difference between a bottle rocket and an bazooka is "just" a bigger bang.

      Some people can justify any invasive use of technology by arguing that exactly the same thing could be accomplished, if only we had a police officer to monitor every citizen, so it must be OK. A funny argument, because nobody in their right mind wants to live in a society where every citizen is shadowed by a cop for no reason.

      The question isn't whether police have the "right" to do this; the question is whether "We The People" feel like telling our police forces to use this tactic, or not. There is nobody to tell us (collectively) that we must.

    • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Informative)

      by David Price (1200) * on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:51AM (#6950382)
      The opinion addresses your question:

      [Note: the Court of Appeals is the lower court being overruled here]

      The Court of Appeals also held that use of the GPS devices was merely sense augmenting, revealing information that Jackson exposed to public view. The court noted that law enforcement officers could legally follow Jackson on his travels to the ministorage compartment and the two gravesites. We do not agree that use of the GPS devices to monitor Mr. Jackson's travels merely equates to following him on public roads where he has voluntarily exposed himself to public view.

      It is true that an officer standing at a distance in a lawful place may use binoculars to bring into closer view what he sees, or an officer may use a flashlight at night to see what is plainly there to be seen by day. However, when a GPS device is attached to a vehicle, law enforcement officers do not in fact follow the vehicle. Thus, unlike binoculars or a flashlight, the GPS device does not merely augment the officers' senses, but rather provides a technological substitute for traditional visual tracking. Further, the devices in this case were in place for approximately two and one-half weeks. It is unlikely that the sheriff's department could have successfully maintained uninterrupted 24-hour surveillance throughout this time by following Jackson. Even longer tracking periods might be undertaken, depending upon the circumstances of a case. We perceive a difference between the kind of uninterrupted, 24-hour a day surveillance possible through use of a GPS device, which does not depend upon whether an officer could in fact have maintained visual contact over the tracking period, and an officer's use of binoculars or a flashlight to augment his or her senses.

    • by frovingslosh (582462) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @02:36AM (#6950510)
      Read the ruling, the court makes it pretty clear.

      They even "get it" , that if a warrant isn't required here it isn't required at all, meaning that the government is completely free to put a GPS device on you and everyone else for the purpose of tracking everything you and they do. That is hardly freedom (the ruling even goes into why it would infringe freedom) and so the warrant is required.

      • by IIH (33751)
        They even "get it" , that if a warrant isn't required here it isn't required at all, meaning that the government is completely free to put a GPS device on you and everyone else for the purpose of tracking everything you and they do.

        It's a pity that the UK doesn't get it. Here the government have reintroduced the Snoopers charter [bbc.co.uk] so your mobile phone location (as well as your email, telephone, website logs) can all be accessed automatically (i.e. without a warrent) not only by the police, but also by depar

    • Just thought of something else. Even if you don't see an intrinsic difference between the GPS tracker and a 24-hour police tail, the GPS still has more functionality that makes it harder to justify as an investigatory measure that should be available without a warrant.

      A police officer tailing you without a warrant may not follow you onto private property where he does not have permission to go. If you turn into the driveway of your thousand-acre ranch that's surrounded by vision-obscuring terrain like hill
      • by toast0 (63707)
        it should be noted that in this case the GPS device was a store and retrieve type, and not a broadcasting type.

        Of course, all a would be trackee has to do is destroy the car, since it's evidence. :)

        Or create a network of tunnels to drive through and leave the car in while hiding the body. If the tunnels are constructed properly, GPS signals will not be able to penetrate to the device... I suppose a dead reckoning device could be used for tracking then, but i don't know that they make devices good enough
        • by afidel (530433)
          Sure they make gyroscope augmented GPS tracking units. They are used in commercial airliners and some other applications. They are not as cheap as say a Garmin eTrex but they aren't so prohibitivly expensive that they couldn't be used in a lojack type application.
    • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Spazmania (174582) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @03:04AM (#6950566) Homepage
      what IS the difference between using a GPS device to track someone and just following him around?

      Its like the difference between Junk Mail and Spam.

      It costs quite a bit of money to send junk mail, so there is a natural limiter on how much is sent. Moreover, its traceable so folks sending junk mail don't get too egregious with fraud.

      Spam on the other hand, is mostly fraudulent and because its cheap to generate, it arrives in an unmanageable deluge.

      Tailing someone is expensive. You have to have an officer or two in their own vehicle. You also can't do a whole lot of it... Its conspicuous. Folks notice, wonder what the cops are up to, and start asking questions.

      The GPS device is comparativly cheap. Once installed, you can passively watch a person's comings and goings for months. And it doesn't stick out like a cop car does. If they don't need a warrant, what's to stop them from tracking every person who looks at them cross-eyed? And if you seem to spend time at an odd location, well, that's a place the cops should check out, now isn't it?

      The caselaw has a more pragmatic viewpoint: without a warrant, look but don't touch. The moment you want to attach or open or do anything like that, you need a warrant.

      Sadly, this means that the automated floating police cameras from the sci fi movies would be A-OK for use without a warrant.
    • by numark (577503) *
      That's basically what the judges said. Their point was that a police force wouldn't be able to track someone for weeks 24 hours a day, and therefore it's collecting information in a way that the police wouldn't normally be able to. Therefore, a warrant is required.
    • Re:Hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AlecC (512609) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:07AM (#6950980)
      On the other hand, what IS the difference between using a GPS device to track someone and just following him around?

      What is the difference between tapping someones phone and just listening to their conversation? Inevitably, there is a huge grey area between the clearly acceptable and the clearly unacceptable.

      There is no Right answer to this. The judgment given by this court accords with my prejudices. Trailing someone with GPS is intrusive and an infringement of privacy. OTOH it is a valuable way of detecting crime. The intermediate position of requiring a warrant from a court (which should be impartial; if it isn't, that is a different problem) seems to me a good balance.

      I think "just following him around" for long periods is also intrusive. However, it would be very difficult to frame a ruling saying exactly how long it was justifiable for a policeman to follow a suspec. However, sheer economics works for us here: it is too expensive for police to put a 24 hour track on someone unless they have a really good reason. So, while purist theory might ask for a law, real world econmics mean thatit isn't necessary. But the GPS device (a) changes the economics completely, and (b) provides a nice simple, enforcable test.

      So, IMO, this is the system working right in developing the application of the law to reflect new technology
    • On the other hand, what IS the difference between using a GPS device to track someone and just following him around?

      There are some differences, but none of them should matter. If the police want to follow someone around for an extended period of time, they should have to obtain a warrant first.

      Now constitutionally it's a completely different story. Is following someone around a search? Is using a GPS device to track someone a search? I'd say yes in both instances. Using the dictionary.com definitio

  • by revividus (643168) <phil DOT crissman AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:31AM (#6950297) Homepage
    What would prevent using the GPS without a warrant, and simply not crediting its use?

    OTOH, do I want the police to have to wait to get a warrant before they can use this technology to trace, say, an actual violent criminal?

    It's not something I've given a lot of thought to, I admit, but it seems the better this sort of technology gets, the more difficult it will become to legislate how it is used.

    • by stevezero (620090) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:35AM (#6950314)
      > OTOH, do I want the police to have to wait to get a warrant before they can use this technology to trace, say, an actual violent criminal? Yes, you do. Warrants require at least PROBABLE CAUSE to be shown to an independent magistrate. Warrants (in theory) keep the police out of the average joe's hair, and doesn't allow them to use GPS on YOU. I'm all in favor of this ruling. Technology may change, but the basic rights and freedoms that we enjoy don't.
    • by www.sorehands.com (142825) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:42AM (#6950340) Homepage

      What would prevent using the GPS without a warrant, and simply not crediting its use?

      That would come from investigations. If they have information about something, then you as the defense, will have to determine where the information came from and if they broke the law.

      OTOH, do I want the police to have to wait to get a warrant before they can use this technology to trace, say, an actual violent criminal?

      An accused violent criminal. Keep in mind, this is happening before the guilt is determined.

    • by caitsith01 (606117) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:45AM (#6950353) Journal
      Um... how is that different to using a phone tap and not crediting its use, or any one of a number of other surveillence investigative techniques?

      "an actual violent criminal" - just make sure you don't put the cart before the horse. It's way to easy to say that the police should have every power to deal with 'actual' criminals, but no-one should be treated as guilty until after they have been to trial. There is an immense danger in implicitly removing the presumption of innocence by granting the police unchecked discretionary powers they would traditionally need to show good reasons to a judge to use.
    • do I want the police to have to wait to get a warrant before they can use this technology to trace, say, an actual violent criminal?
      With rapid communications, I suspect time it takes to get a warrant will decrease to a point where getting a warrant will take about as long as a technical support call.
      • Wow, so the way to disable the police force is to do something that requires them to get a warrant. In the intervening 5 hours of hold (with dropped calls every 45 minutes or so), the city is ours.

        If police shows are to be believed, warrants can be obtained very quickly if necessary. Although at night, you have to wake up the judge first.
      • Nah. Because a judge must ok the warrant the obtaining of a warrant is still relegated to bankers hours when a free judge can be found despite email, faxes, cellphones, etc. There are of course extrenuating circumstances where a judge may be contacted outside court hours but you better have a DAMN good reason to do so.
    • What would prevent using the GPS without a warrant, and simply not crediting its use?

      That goes to the old joke about the psychic who helps police solve cases by "seeing" information about the crime. There is, of course, no exhibition of special powers. The policeman can't credit the information to his unlawful source, so he arranges for Miss Esmerelda to come up with it instead.
    • They don't need a GPS to trace a criminal. Most criminals are in prisons already. It's the suspects who are walking around.
    • What would prevent using the GPS without a warrant, and simply not crediting its use?

      Hopefully internal affairs, or a whistleblower. Plus the fact that if it ever was discovered, it would jeoparize the entire case, and a guilty person could go free. Maybe not enough, but what more can you expect?

      OTOH, do I want the police to have to wait to get a warrant before they can use this technology to trace, say, an actual violent criminal?

      I have a hard time seeing why GPS would be necessary to track an ac

  • Do they need a warrant before they have the right to simply observe a suspect? I admit I don't know for sure, but I'm betting that they don't.

    If the police couldn't use GPS for whatever reason, they'd just have someone around to tail them everywhere anyways. Using GPS is just using technology in place of someone actually being there to follow the person. I fail to see why they'd need any more of a warrant to use a GPS to track a suspect than a warrant to monitor someone.

    • Trespass (Score:3, Insightful)

      by maroberts (15852)
      The simple reason, as other posters have pointed out, is attachment of a device to a person or his possessions requires some form of interference with those possessions or the person.

      Anything which involves intrusion should require a warrant.
  • by caitsith01 (606117) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:36AM (#6950323) Journal
    What we're talking about here is the police actually going to your car and placing a tracker on it. It seems to me that there is a significant difference between this and, say, using an inbuilt navigation system in your car to track you.

    My view is that, whereas the first option might be ok in some circumstances with a warrant, the real danger to liberties is when the second option starts to become viable. If the police are investigating a specific crime, and they have evidence that leads them to suspect you, then they will be able to convince a judge to let them track you and gain a warrant, which is pretty benign so long as proper processes are followed and there is enough transparency to monitor their activities. What would be scary would be if they could just check up on anyone, any time, because we all have GPS in our cars or phones and implanted in our brains.

    What will be interesting will be to see how the two scenarios are construed by the courts: is it a more serious matter to track someone using their own GPS than it is to place a tracker on their vehicle, or vice-versa? I hope the bar is set higher for the use of someone's own GPS device, or at least set to the same height. It is all to easy to envisage a police policy arguing that there is no harm is using the GPS system to 'check' where people are without their knowledge - kinda how the compulsory location identification technology in phones is justified because it lets emergency services find idiots who phone 911 and then fail to give their location. Once there is some degree of ambiguity the system is open to all kinds of abuse. Therefore I think the best solution would be for a warrant to be required for any kind of tracking to occur.

    It's great to see the law actually adapt to a new scenario with some degree of success, anyway.
    • Actually the police using your vehicles navigation system (such as Onstar) would possibly be more protected. They would have to obtain a warrant to get the information, and even then there are possible fifth amendmant grounds, can you sign up for a service which may tend to incriminate you without your knowledge?
    • I suspect that the biggest use for GPS, and similar tracking technology, is for people to track stolen goods. In such cases the tracking device is in the goods. I understand that the courts look favorably on this use of technology.

      Seems to me that this story only applies to cases of police intruding to install devices. This sounds quite reasonable to me, although I admit I can see reasons why the police would want to be able to install a tracking device when they do not have time to get a warrant.

      For e
      • The main thing that happens when you should have obtained a warrant before doing something, and you didn't is that the evidence collected with that warrant is not usable in court.

        If you have evidence (officer testimony, news footage, etc) that a suspect resisted arrest, endangered the public, was driving recklessly, and exhibiting speed, and then use a tracking device without a warrant to determine the location of the vehicle used by the suspect, the inadmissable evidence would be where the car was found.
    • it lets emergency services find idiots who phone 911 and then fail to give their location

      I don't like the idea very much too, but it's not only idiots. A week ago there was a Discovery program about a derailed train. When the conductor called 911, he couldn't give the exact location, because all he knew was that the train derailed, fell into some river and half of it is burning right now (another half is under water already). It didn't look like he was an idiot, just like a person, who didn't know his exa
  • by Farley Mullet (604326) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:42AM (#6950341)
    The controlling law here is the Washington State Constitution, not the United States Constitution. Indeed, from the decision:
    Jackson does not claim or suggest in his petition for review that the Fourth Amendment was violated. Accordingly, there is no issue before us under the Fourth Amendment.
    So the force of this decision ends at the border of Washington State.
    • So the force of this decision ends at the border of Washington State.

      That, strictly speaking, is true. But having this case on hand when arguing or deciding similar cases elsewhere could help convince judges who might have had a harder time without any precedent at all.
      • Were it only a jurisdictional issue, you'd be dead on, and having the Washington State precedent could be of some bearing in other states. The problem with appealing to this decision elsewhere is that the actions were found to be in contravention of a privacy guarantee in the Washington State Constitution, not the search and seizure provisions of the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So unless other states have similar language in their constitutions (and a similar case-law interpretation of that
    • Under common law (like the US has, and 49 states), legal precedents are a basis for the law.

      So technically, the influence of this decision ends in the courtroom - no law was changed, after all. However, this case should help establish a precedent. Other courts with similar cases are likely to go by the same reasoning. Police won't use GPS tracking devices, because they know judges will rule against it if it comes to court. Eventually, unless the law changes, the precedent becomes the rule.

      • So technically, the influence of this decision ends in the courtroom - no law was changed, after all. However, this case should help establish a precedent. Other courts with similar cases are likely to go by the same reasoning.

        You're missing the point. The point isn't that Washington State's supreme court can only bind lower courts in Washington by precedent; the point is that the appeal was to a privacy provision in Washington State's Constitution, which (obviously) only has force in Washington State.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    "The devices in this case were in place for approximately 2-1/2 weeks," Madsen wrote. "It is unlikely that the sheriff's department could have successfully maintained uninterrupted 24-hour surveillance throughout this time by following Jackson."

    The only thing preventing the police from following someone 24 hours a day for 2 1/2 weeks is the cost. It would be quite expensive to allocate a group of officers for 2 1/2 weeks. Could it be done, sure why not. Its not like its hard to follow a large metal obje
    • Ah, the old 'money is more important than process or freedoms' argument.

      Never get tired of that one. I wonder how much money the US is saving by keeping those pesky alleged unproven possibly unlawful combatants locked away at Camp X-Ray, free from the money squandering foolishness of the US Courts who might want to accord them pricey and unneccessary rights?

      Of course, ultimately it would be cheaper for the police to just shoot every suspect. About 10 cents for the bullet, no pesky paperwork or trial, ever
    • Valid point.

      But the argument is whether or not you need a warrant to attach the device, not whether or not it should ever be done.

      GPS is a simple way to do 24/7 surveillance detail on a suspect if a judge says so. Otherwise, it's an invasion of privacy. Makes sense to me.

  • by pr0ntab (632466)
    The prosecutors contended this was no more intrusive than having an officer tail a suspect, for which no warrant is needed.

    But they assume that just because you pay taxes to drive a car, they can go up to it and modify it without your knowledge as part of a criminal investigation? That is irresponsible, and it breaks (some amendment, sleepy, can't remember). ^_^;;;
    • by caitsith01 (606117) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:51AM (#6950381) Journal
      I was wondering if this might actually constitute tresspass to property, as they are messing with your car without your knowledge or consent and without necessarily believing that you are guilty of anything.

      The police do not, for instance, have the ability to enter your home without your consent in the absence of a warrant, so how is this different? If an ordinary citizen did it they would be guilty of tresspass for sure.
      • In this case, the police had impounded the cars and while impounded, obtained a warrant to place the devices. They had to do the same thing for the GPSs as they would to search his home. So this is a good decision.
        • Hmm, guess I should RTFA :)

          Still, it's an interesting question. Is, for instance, it tresspass to use someone's own GPS system in their car or phone against them? Is it tresspass to attach something to their car without their knowledge or consent?
          • The second question is fairly easy for us regular citizens - even if you can't call it "tresspass", it sure would count as "car prowling". Lot's of kids get a few months in juvie for that! ;-)

            Someday, that first question will come up. Rest assured, it will be in a case where the facts are horrid like they are here. The whole case will hinge on whether using that information was OK, and as a result, we'll get a bad decision which says that if you voluntarily purchase one these devices, you have put your
            • So perhaps what we need is for someone to argue it in a less important case, even where it's not necessarily crucial. I attended a talk for lawyers and legal academics by a 5th Circuit SC judge and he basically urged people to bring cases before the courts when important principles were at play. He said something like, "I'd love to give an opinion on that, but I can't until you bring it before me!"

              In other words, he wants to protect liberties and the citizen against the state (this was in the context of ot
  • by narratorDan (137402) <narratordan@gmail.com> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:49AM (#6950367)
    When ever I commit a crime, I would just search my car and set up a system that turns my car's frame into a big antenna broadcasting static on the same frequency as the GPS system.

    NarratorDan
  • by stratjakt (596332) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:50AM (#6950374) Journal
    It's really about the tracking data obtained being admissible in court.

    So there's a murder, a body dumped in the woods. The cop finds out through a GPS device on your car that your vehicle drove from the victims apartment to the woods right after the murder.

    Without a warrant to obtain that data, the judge throws this evidence out. Otherwise it would be a violation of your rights. There's very little a cop can do to you without a warrant, they can't step onto your property, peer through your windows to see whats going on.

    A more extreme example you'd see on "Law and Order", I suppose.

    Potheads who grow their own are paranoid about cops patrolling the neighbourhoods with heat-sensing cameras, looking for the "hot" houses - which would be a tip that there's some lamps running in there. Or watching power bills for extra usage. They can't - they've tried and judges have thrown it out. You need a warrant first. Public property is fair game, though, and they can go through your trash once it hits the public curve.

    Anyhow, that's getting off topic. Point is, this is no shock. Without a warrant a cop is limited to what he sees in public property, he can't go onto your property or through your car without permission.

    With exceptions (that they love to exploit) like they can search a trunk of a car if there's a safety concern. They like to pull over suspected dealers, play "hey now I think your exhaust might be leaking, we need to look in the trunk for your safety!"... Though a good lawyer chews such actions up in court.

    By and large, Judges are very pro-citizen and very anti-cop. They were all attorneys or DAs and know the games they play, and aren't impressed.

    What are we talking about again? Oh yeah. GPS. Dont worry about the local LEOs slipping one into your pocket and watching you. Thats federal black helicopter shit (and if you get the feds on your case all bets are off)
    • Just why is it legal for the cops to go trashing but not legal for a citizen? In most places the trash is the 'property' of the refuse company the moment you take the can full of trash out to the sidewalk.
  • This ruling was by the Washington State Supreme Court and only applies to warrants issued in the State of Washington. "There is no controlling legal authority" (as Gore once said) in the other 49 states -- so be aware (that is if you are doing anything that might cause the police to want to track you).
  • I live in Spokane where this creep killed his daughter. The cops got a warrant before they put the tracking device on his vehicle, just in case.

    I'm pretty sure the WA State Supreme Court ruling was that they have to get a warrant before they put a GPS tracking device somewhere.

    But I bet if somebody was a "terrorist" we can bypass warrants and judges. Thanks Patriot Acts One and Two!
    • I didn't read the whole slashdot synopsis either. It clearly states the cops got a warrant. I suck. I guess I was all excited because I live in the same town where Brad Jackson killed his daughter.
    • This guy was way more than a creep. He should have gotten the death penalty IMO. He makes up a fraudulent story about his child missing, he kills her and then makes up a story that she overdosed and that he thought he'd be suspect because of his wife's "dissappearance," and he kills her on the grounds that the girl and his girlfriend don't get along and so he removes the visible "obstruction." People like this should be taken out, not given 672 months in prison with possibility of parole. I don't want s
  • Judge OK..RTFA! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mabhatter654 (561290) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:54AM (#6950388)
    The cops PLANTED a GPS tracker on the guys car to keep tabs on him at all times. Fortunately this time, and properly, they got a court's permission first. All the judge did was verify that it did indeed require a warrant for that activity.

    When you realize that most new cars have GPS as well as cellphones, the requirement of the State to get permission to aquire the data BEFORE THE FACT is extremely important. After all, without such oversite the abuse is enourmous. Mess with the local deputy's daughter and a dead body just might be found near where you made out last night! Get the idea. You were there for way to long, so you must have commited the crime, right? Unrestricted access opens up all new ways of setting honest people up. There's nothing special about granting GPS for someone who's already a suspect and you would search their house or grounds. It's only 15 minutes of paperwork to protect our freedom!

    And that's really the issue here. With the laughablely low standards for warrants these days [in car faxes, phone-a-judge, patriot? act] , is there really any reason NOT to simply follow the few procedures we have left? We expect tripliate paperwork for the simplest screw on a FAA certified aircraft, how much dicipline should we expect from a man with a GUN comming after ME or YOU! We might be KILLED too!

  • The article specifically mentions the Global Positioning System (GPS). So what if in a few years time, cops use Galileo? Then, if the ruling blankets satellite systems altogether, what about radio frequency pingers?

    Hell, if everything electronic is banned altogether, why not attach a canister of UV florescent dye under the car and follow the trail left behind with a UV light and goggles?

    • you know, this guy was probably dumb enough not to notice a can of regular paint...

      if you read the opinion of the court, it would pretty clear that they're objecting to warrantless survaillance in any form.

      • If it's UV dye it could look like water. Put enough of it in the cooling system and give him a cooling system leak and he'll leave a nice trail of drips.
  • I have to draw the line when the police move from using passive survellience and tracking to active transmitting devices on a person who has yet to be proven guilty. They want to prove something, fine. Do the footwork. Gather the evidence. Maybe even tail them if in some cases, but you do not touch the them or their property until you can prove them guilty. In theis case, I have absolutely no problem with the warrent requirement. That is unless you don't mind the police breaking into your apartment to isnta
  • Whoa. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .yppupcinataS.> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:57AM (#6950399) Journal
    It freaks my brain that they WEREN'T required before. Somewhere in Washington there is a guy with a reciver capable of plotting every stupid thing you do in a day. If he's got a floor plan of your house, he can tell how many times a day you take a leak.

    Any kind of serious survelliance without a warrant...The only possible reason you'd want to be able to do that is so you could track people for whom a judge would refuse to give a warrant. I had my property searched WITH a warrant which had been issued because I TALKED to someone who was indicted in a crime. Guess that was too much bother for old Ashcroft. Bastard. I think he should be required to submit AT ALL TIMES to every violation of civil liberties outlined in the so-called Patriot Act...especially the one about "enemies of the state" being held in Cuba with no trial, forever. I think the founding fathers would have named him an enemy of the state.
    • It freaks my brain that they WEREN'T required before

      From the sounds of the article, there was no prior rulings on the issue either way. This is just the first time the issue has ever come before the courts, and possibly one of the first times the technology has been used in a case like this.

      And it's state, not federal, so you can't blame Ashcroft.

  • by mao che minh (611166) * on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:58AM (#6950404) Journal
    More like "score one for sensibility". GPS is merely another means of tracking one's proverbial pray - as is celluar phone transmissions and web server logs. It is only fitting that a judge realized this plain and obvious fact.

    What is really interesting is that law enforcement officials really did "just suppose" that it was their right to use this technology to build a case without restrictions, authorization, or even explination.

    • Actually, I think the cops actedd appropriatly in this case because before they attached the devices, they went to a judge and got permission (a warrant) to do so. That is in fact the reason this evidence was not tossed out.
  • by FearUncertaintyDoubt (578295) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @02:04AM (#6950432)
    But he said the court had expanded privacy rights for criminal suspects.

    The prosecutor had to add that in to crank up the fear level. OOO! Those bad criminals now have privacy rights. What would be a more accurate statement is, the court had expanded privacy rights for all citizens. But, of course, that doesn't get the soccer moms worried enough to ask for a repeal of the Bill of Rights.

    And the argument that the cops can freely place a GPS on your car and track you because it's just like tailing you, is flawed. A much closer analogy would be to say that they can secretly place a bug on your clothing because that would be the same as following you around listening to your conversation.

  • Patriot Act (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gripdamage (529664) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @02:44AM (#6950529)
    Score one for civil liberties....the Supreme Court of Washington state ruled today that a warrant is required by police to use GPS tracking devices to track suspects.

    Which brings us to the Patriot Act, which makes this ruling totally moot if you get some feds involved that can mutter the t-word. As in "Oh yeah. I almost forgot judge that we thought he might be like a terrorist and stuff, so no warrant required." Although why even explain it to a judge when a military tribunal will do? But why bother with a tribunal when you can just hold the person indefinitely without ever charging them?

    But it sure is a relief to have this one on the books. If we ever get the constitution back, it might even matter.
  • I'm too lazy to google the subject at the moment, but I do vagly also remember a case in washington regarding the leaving of surveillance equipment. Someone was nice enough to leave a camcorder in the girls locker room at the Kingdome for the benifit of recording images of the cheerleaders changing. While this was considered to be in bad form, and generally accepted as being illegal, the only means they had the procucte the guy was under the wiretapping laws, as in the video wasn't the problem it was the

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