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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 Skyshadow (508) * on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:38PM (#11341207) Homepage
    Okay, at the risk of pissing off the tin foil hat crowd, I have to ask: what's the problem here?

    As much as I'm against the Big Brother state, I gotta say it's a little absurd to expect privacy while you're on the road. I mean, the cops don't need a warrant to tail you. They don't need a warrant to put out an APB for your car. Those things accomplish the same thing as GPS -- either tracking your movements or locating you, and they're all completely legal and, in my opinion, reasonable.

    This isn't a case of erosion of privacy. It isn't a freedom being taken away. It's not, in my decidedly non-lawyer opinion, a violation of anybody's Constitutional rights. It's just a new way of doing the same things that have been done for decades.

  • by eln (21727) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:43PM (#11341282) Homepage
    I agree with you in principle. The only difficulty I have with this is the police put a GPS receiver on his car without his knowledge. It is sort of analogous to the police putting a wiretap on your phone line or, say, putting a brick of coke in your trunk without your knowledge, and then arresting you later for it. They are putting a device meant to incriminate you on your personal property without your consent.
  • GPS jammer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chaffed (672859) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:43PM (#11341299) Homepage
    Not just for the Tin Foil hat crowd. Those who are criminally inclined may find a GPS Jammer [phrack.org] handy. Though this does violate FCC regulations. But hey when you committing a crime, does breaking one more law matter?

  • Privacy or not (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stratjakt (596332) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:44PM (#11341312) Journal
    Are the police really allowed to fuck with my car without a warrant or my knowledge?

    I could care less about the GPS and tracking him. What if in installing their little bugs they nick a brake or fuel line, and someone winds up dead?

    Note to cops: If I see anyone fucking around under the hood of my car in the middle of the night, I WILL shoot first, and ask questions later, and I will be completely within my rights to do so.

  • by canfirman (697952) <pdavi25@ya[ ].ca ['hoo' in gap]> on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:46PM (#11341325)
    I thought that a warrant was needed before any sort of surveylance was done. If I RTFA:

    When Robert Moran drove back to his law offices in Rome, N.Y., after a plane trip to Arizona in July 2003, he had no idea that a silent stowaway was aboard his vehicle: a secret GPS bug implanted without a court order by state police. (my bold)

    ...and...

    What's raising eyebrows, though, is the increasingly popular law enforcement practice of secretly tagging Americans' vehicles without adhering to the procedural safeguards and judicial oversight that protect the privacy of homes and telephone conversations from police abuses. (my bold)

    The last line sums it up - it seems that police more and more are not adhering to the "rules" to prevent abuse, and now this judge has given his consent for the police to break those "rules". I have no problem using GPS as a surveylance technique, as it's like planting a bug or homing device, but as long as the judicial process has been followed. This ruling by the judge starts to erode at the "innocent until proven guilty" theory. It's the abuses under the Patriot Act all over again.

  • by AnotherFreakboy (730662) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:50PM (#11341397)
    There are many examples in which someone might not want others to know where they are, but have to travel through public space to get there.

    Consider the example of a CEO of a big company. A lot of people would consider it interesting, to say the least, where they have travelled to and who else has travelled there.

    If that doesn't do it for you, perhaps because the law doesn't usually apply to big shot CEOs, or perhaps because big CEOs are too far removed from your sphere of experience, consider homosexuals. It's legal (in many places) to be homosexual, but many people don't approve of it, and so there are social consequences to being publically outed. Although you haven't commited a crime, you might get unwanted police attention if Officer Homophobe knew you had travelled to a gay-bar.

    Still not convinced? Consider the (admittedly unlikely) scenario of a massive backlash by vergetarians against the meat-eaters. After a decades long war that divides families, eating meat becomes illegal, but some people still like to do it, they have just been forced underground. Would like it to be known to the vege-cops that you have been to a suspected slaughter-house (slang for restaurant that serves meat of course)?

    Hey, it happened with slavery.
  • by dewke (44893) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:50PM (#11341400)
    While I agree that not needing a court order is on shaky grounds you're 100% right.

    The GPS will not incriminate you. The illegal activities it allows the police to monitor will, and yes it's no different than the cops using a plane or a car to follow you, just a lot cheaper.
  • by wasted (94866) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:52PM (#11341435)
    ...it's about planting a device on my car for later use against me. If we allow this, could the next device be a concealed tape recorder or other device to monitor my conversations since it is legal to listen to what I say? Since it is as legal to watch a house as it is to track a car, does this mean it is similarly legal to put monitoring devices in the home without my knowledge or permission?

    I personally believe that this is a violation of the intent of the fourth amendment. Of course, as I am not a lawyer or a judge, my opinion doesn't really matter.
  • by Boricle (652297) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:52PM (#11341436) Homepage
    In the article, there are two situations (there are more, but for now, I'll mention two of them).

    1 - Police Don't Need Warrant To Use This
    2 - In Colorado, a man was convicted for tracking his (soon to be ex) wife using one of these.

    Call me a bit strange, however, if an ordinary person can be charged (and convicted) for doing this, then really doesn't that suggest that there needs to be some form of judical oversight when the police do it?

    Boris.

    Disclaimer - I'm not even in the US.

  • Your car (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phorm (591458) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:54PM (#11341458) Journal
    What was that, your typical think-of-the-children response?

    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?

    The point is that the vehicle was tampered with: without a warrant and without notification of the owner.
  • Re:Can of worms (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DustMagnet (453493) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:57PM (#11341502) Journal
    OK, so now what's going to stop police from hiding GPS units on many cars parked on the street in high crime neighborhoods and tracking thousands of potential suspects?

    There are many good reasons (as others have given), but I'm pretty sure they'd lose lots of GPS units if they started puting them on cars in high crime areas. I'm pretty sure they can be reprogrammed or rewired for profit.

    Which leads me to ask, "If someone hides a GPS on my car and I find it, do I get to keep it?" and "If I take one off another car, who am I stealing from?"

  • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:01PM (#11341546) Homepage Journal
    On your car or in your car? For years, the police in some US jurisdictions have been placing little pieces of tape on the tailights of cars parked in nightclub parking lots and then using the presence of said tape (as in the right taillight of that moviong car has a black spot on it) as added reason to suspect one had been drinking (note I said "added reason", not "probable cause")
  • Cop Locator WebSite (Score:4, Interesting)

    by YankeeInExile (577704) * on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:08PM (#11341647) Homepage Journal

    I was working on a project some years ago tracking the location of public transit vehicles, using a subrate data service called CDPD (Cellular Digital Packetized Data or some such...)

    We squawked to the vendor of the hardware (Trimble Navigation) that the units had absolutely no access control - allowing any user who knew the IP address of the device to connect to it, and change its stream-of-consciousness reporting, or merely poll it for its current location.

    They told us this was not a great concern.

    A little human engineering later, we had the IP block used by one of their largest customers (The California Highway Patrol), and showed up at a meeting, not with a map of our transit system, but a display showing the current position, direction and speed of every CHP patrol car in northern California. They finally decided that maybe access control was a good idea.

    Now that would have been a moneymaking dot-com!

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:09PM (#11341651)
    Yesterday in Massachusetts, a snow plow operator, too dumb to know his truck had GPS, exposed himself to a woman at a coffee shop

    Last year the state switched from logbooks to these devices. For weeks (and I do mean weeks) snowplow operators bitched about it to any news crew that would point a camera at them. They said most of them had not received training on their use (true), the snow in the air/on the truck, and cab design would often block the signal from reaching the unit and cause it to not record miles that had been plowed (also true.) What nobody was willing to say was that it ALSO recorded every coffee break that truck operator Bob reported previously as "down that country lane over there". Most of the legitimate complaints were addressed with training by the state and redesigned brackets to hold the units to keep them on the dash and in a good position.

    Every snow plow operator in the country was following along and knew all about these devices well before the first flake dropped last year. Hell, MA truck operators threatened to strike. It was a BIG deal.

  • by WarPresident (754535) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:31PM (#11342748) Homepage Journal
    You're not thinking this very well through. There's no need to use a short range antenna -- use a long range antenna, and decode the transmitted signal. Then you can see where every car so-bugged (using the same transmitters and frequency) in town is.

    Are there any off the shelf detectors/receivers?
  • Bestest GPS Jammer (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DrKyle (818035) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:33PM (#11342767)
    Obviously you haven't considered the best method to keep from being trackedd which is described here [usatoday.com].
  • Re:Your car (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday January 13, 2005 @12:12AM (#11345000) Homepage Journal
    At least in California, you have to pay for the plates but are still expected to give them back under certain situations. In California, you arguably do not own vehicles in most counties, because the DMV can refuse to license something and in a lot of places (like Santa Cruz county) the cops can come on your property without a warrant if there is no fence plus gate or if you leave a gate open, and they can ticket unregistered cars, and then actually tow them for unpaid tickets... right out of your yard.
  • by bigpat (158134) on Thursday January 13, 2005 @12:34AM (#11345127)
    "But would it be legal for Joe Citizen to put a tracking bug like this on a cop car?"

    Logically yes.

    "It could certainly make for an interesting legal situation if a person were to go up to a cop, say `I'm going to put this tracking bug on your car', and then proceed to do so. The cop would probably say `you can't do that', then arrest him when he tries to do so anyways ..."

    The point of the ruling would seem to be that we wouldn't have too. Like putting a flyer on the windsheild of the car, or a tracking device underneath....no real legal difference right... ummm right?.

    I've thought for a while now that this would be a good business idea... to give people a website to track the current location of police cars. Not to help criminals, but to help good law abiding citizens avoid trouble spots... A real money maker, thanks to this court's decision this would be a lot more economical than just tailing cops a having people report their positions.

    Probably though, this would become yet another one of the growing examples where government agents get exempted from the application of a new law that applies to you and me.

    I think I'm going to recycle my tin foil hat and get myself something a little stronger.

The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent. -- Sagan

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