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No Warrant Needed For GPS Tracking By Police 641

Posted by timothy
from the we-don't-need-no-steenking-badges dept.
museumpeace writes "Ruling that a suspect nabbed using GPS sneaked into his vehicle by police without a warrant, has '... no expectation of privacy in the whereabouts of his vehicle on a public roadway,' a New York judge has seemingly moved the lines in the battle between privacy and police powers. CNET news has this story, which also says 'Not all uses are controversial. Trucking outfits use GPS boxes to keep track of their drivers' locations, and companies sell software to dispatchers that instantly calculates which taxi is closest to a customer.' But I don't buy that. Yesterday in Massachusetts, a snow plow operator, too dumb to know his truck had GPS, exposed himself to a woman at a coffee shop, hopped back in his truck and was apprehended in minutes because the state troopers, knowing only the location of the coffee shop and that it was a snow plow operator, could find his exact whereabouts."
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No Warrant Needed For GPS Tracking By Police

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  • by La0tsu (203246) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:07PM (#11341623)
    "This doesn't sound like it's too different than a wiretap or audio bug planted on something."

    Those are two activities for which the police need A WARRANT!
  • by rk (6314) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:17PM (#11341787) Journal

    If the cops can put a GPS tracker device on my car without a warrant...

    Then if I find it, I can take it apart and use it in my own projects because that fucker's mine!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:23PM (#11341886)
    Following a car is one thing.


    Planting a tracking device in a car is another thing.


    Your car is private property (if you own it). The police cannot 'invade' private property without a warrant, so it makes sense to guard that. If, suddenly, your car is a different 'type' of private property that the police have public enough access to to plant bugs then what else changes? Can they then plant bugs on your bike? On other personal belongings? Your house?

    If I sit outside your house, I can look through your windows and watch your garage to see whether you're at home or not, does that give me the right to put motion detectors inside to tell me where you're at?


    This is clearly an abuse of power. If the man owned his car (not leased, not rented, not company) then the police had to tamper with private property without a court order. The police have to have atleast a reason to pull you over. These police had an idea that he might be involved with bad people and acted on it. If the police were Jack Bauer, ok, but they're not, they make mistakes, they are human.

    Could they, since everything is obviously public in a car, place a transmitter that transmits what you say in your car? That transmits video of what occurs in your car? No. Use satellite imaging, license plate tracking, any visual way to track my (or anyone elses car) but plant nothing without a warrant.


    Give them an inch and they'll take a mile.

  • by jubei (89485) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:23PM (#11341888)
    no it is not. They placed something covertly on his car, his property. That is not right.

    If they had robots that were set up to follow him (only on public property) and do the stakeout, I wouldn't have a problem with it.

    Does the GPS turn off when his car goes onto private property?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:29PM (#11341954)
    Well, being as how the Supreme Court long ago said that a lowjack used in this exact manner is constitutionally acceptable (Since you have no expectation of privacy of where your vehicle is when driving on public roads) GPS really is no different, I would not expect to see SCOTUS, or any appeals court for that matter do anything about this at all.
  • by Surt (22457) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:32PM (#11341987) Homepage Journal
    You can get a local transmitting GPS radio in the $10 range now. In 5 years they should be a buck each. The hardware to recieve and track all those signals will run you in the $10k range. It's not too much for most suburbs, and certainly affordable to any city.
  • Re:Win a free GPS! (Score:3, Informative)

    by fred fleenblat (463628) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:34PM (#11342009) Homepage
    If you're going to go looking for it...

    1. There is an antenna placement conflict between GPS being line-of-sight and the covert need for police to keep the unit hidden. It is likely that there is a small, thin antenna that can be run up a seam betweeen body panels, or a thin black tape that can be run along glass next to a rubber window gasket. Point is, these things will be visible.

    2. It has to transmit to the police or it's useless. No way you're going to get a satellite uplink from under a car so it probably just broadcasts locally on a "tweener" frequency somewhere in the police or public bands. Drive your car over to a ham radio guy's house and within 20 seconds he'll have equipment out to scan for the frequency.

    3. The size will probably be big enough to be visible with a quick inspection by flashlight and mirror-on-a-stick. It's probably about the size of the smallest commercially available GPS units. Probably not magnetic like in the bond movies, more likely some loops for quick-ties. Whole thing is flat black plastic maybe with some intentional mud-spot camo. Wire leads away from it to the antenna.

    4. If they really want to install it in a hidden place they'll have to use a jack to raise your car. Stick something crushable and hard to replace at each possible jacking point (including ones not in the owners manual) and just check these before you do your dastardly deeds.

    5. The tech is neat, but once they roll it out and every officer has one it'll be like lo-jack. The criminals know it might be there and they change their tactics to compensate. Small time cheaters will be easier to follow, but the best bet for catching mobsters is probably still the tax code.
  • Re:Your car (Score:2, Informative)

    by Sialagogue (246874) <sialagogue&gmail,com> on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:53PM (#11342255)

    I was responding to the fact that you seemed to imply, by listing a set of extra-legal things police are already allowed to do and then saying "Just ain't fair, is it," that you felt we should be resigned to the fact that police have unfetterred powers. In response to that I was making an arguement for continued judicial review.

    My response was pointed at your statement and I understood that it didn't adress the main point of the story, which is why I said it was tangential.

    Maybe I misunderstood the point of your post. If so, sorry about that.

  • by Brandybuck (704397) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:05PM (#11342401) Homepage Journal
    I thought that a warrant was needed before any sort of surveylance was done.

    Not all all. Surveillance without a warrant is perfectly legal. What is prohibited is an entry or search of private property without a warrant. In this particular case a warrant should have been obtained, but only because the car was private, not because it was under surveillance.
  • Re:Your car (Score:5, Informative)

    by newdarktimes (591000) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:50PM (#11343011)
    So what if it's not in the car. It's still being put on my property. Does this mean that the police can attach whatever they want to my vehicle, so long as they don't open the doors, etc?

    It's even worse than that. "Bugging" a car in this way is not as straightforward as many people think. It's unlikely they even did it without opening the doors. I used to work for a company that did vehicle tracking, including covert law enforcement use such as the one described, and for "bait-cars" that were left out for people to steal.

    It's not like they're just slapping a tiny magnetic device to the undercarriage of the vehicle.

    The biggest problems are the GPS antenna and the power supply. A small battery won't last any longer powering the unit than your mobile phone would without being recharged, so for long term surveillance you need to tap into the vehicle's power supply. That means you need to mount it where you can splice into the vehicle's power lines--for example, we'd sometimes mount ours inside the frame of a door (if it has power windows or locks) or concealed under the dash if there was enough space (usually there isn't).

    As for the GPS antenna, it requires line-of-sight to 3 or more overhead satellites, meaning you need to "see" a good chunk of the sky with it. You can mount it under plastic or glass, but if you tried to mount it under steel you'd lose reception. What's often done to conceal it is to mount the antenna under the car's plastic dash or within the bumper, if the bumper is made at least partially of plastic or rubber. You only need about a square inch or two of surface-area to mount a tiny patch antenna underneath.

    There's also power circuitry (to clean up the vehicle's 12v line), logic circuitry, and a mobile phone or other transmitter included with the tracker. A common misconception is that only a GPS receiver is needed, but GPS receivers are just that--receivers. They receive signals from the GPS satellites, they don't transmit anything back to the satellites. You need to accommodate relaying the vehicle position to your monitoring station through other means such as an SMS-enabled radio (phone).

    If you don't integrate all this onto a single PCB (we didn't), then this is a whole lot of electronics to mount in the vehicle. Even if it is on one PCB, you've got the circuit board, power cable running to the source, a transmitter antenna plus it's cable running to the mounting spot, and a GPS patch-antenna plus it's cable running to a limited-position mounting spot. It's not easy to conceal all this stuff, mount it where vibration and weather won't harm it, and accommodate the GPS antenna's restrictions. I'm sure that's why they did this when the guy was out of town--so they could rip his car apart for a couple hours while they installed it.

    As you can imagine it's not just intrusive with regard to privacy. It's very physically intrusive as well.

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