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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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  • Can of worms (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nysus (162232) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:40PM (#11341239)
    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?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:41PM (#11341259)
    I agree - like the judge's ruling, this is something that could have been done with visual monitoring, but was instead made easier with GPS.

    This would be similar to allowing someone to conduct a stakeout with the naked eye without permission, but requiring a warrant for the use of binoculars.
  • by holysin (549880) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:41PM (#11341261) Homepage
    After 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.

    Ok, this is the problem: they PLANTED a GPS chip in his vehicle.
  • bugs (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:42PM (#11341279)
    It is akin to planting a bug in my car. Last I checked you need a warrant to plant a bug.

    If you want to track my whereabouts, go right ahead and spend the manpower to have a human being follow me. But don't start putting tracking devices in/on my property(car) without due process.
  • by Skyshadow (508) * on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:43PM (#11341287) Homepage
    Newsflash: For the last, oh, six decades, a couple hundred bucks will buy you someone to follow your significant other around and tell you where they've been. They'll even take pictures for you. And they're even licensed by the state.

    Quick! We need a YRO post on this invasion!

  • by jsupreston (626100) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:43PM (#11341304)
    If the vehicle is owned by me, I believe they should have to have a warrant to place one on/in my car. However, if the vehicle is leased (think Rent a Car) or owned by my employer, then the owner of the vehicle should make the decision about the GPS. If the GPS is installed by the owner such as Rent a Car, the police should be required to get a court order to get the tracking info. If no GPS is installed, the owner of the vehicle should be served the warrant. I.E.: Warrant is served to Rent a Car if the driver is a suspect. I guess then Rent a Car has the decision of notifying the driver about the GPS.
  • by onyxruby (118189) <{onyxruby} {at} {comcast.net}> on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:45PM (#11341323)
    While you are out in public it's pretty hard to expect to have privacy, but there should be some limits. It may be legal to take a picture of a celebrity you run into at a bar, but following them home, to work, and everywhere else for weeks on end would get you convicted of stalking in most places. That is essentially what the police did here.

    Some kinds of limits need imposed, just as in most places a cop can't follow you 12 miles to see if you break any traffic laws. The question isn't if it's legal to do to some extent, the question is what is the appropriate extent? What are the limits of public surveilance and privacy?

  • RTFFA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tackhead (54550) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:46PM (#11341326)
    And I ain't talking about the EFFing quote from the article in which some EFF dude said:
    > "We're in a world where more and more of our activities can be viewed in public and...be correlated and linked together."

    Well, of course. But if we had 100,000,000 cops on duty, they could follow you and trade notes, and no warrant would be required.

    GPS is merely a force multiplier. If the EFF guy has a problem with this, I'd encourage him to Read The Fucking Fourth Amendment, and actually pay attention to what it says about what you can poke at without a warrant:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    "Persons." "Houses." "Papers." "Effects." Whereabouts of vehicles, wherein the vehicles are registered to the government, the privilege of driving said vehicles is granted by government, and in a country in which the vehicles are driven on roads built by the government and maintained by the government.

    One of these things is not like the other. One of these things does not belong.

    Privacy is dead. Get over it. But if you don't like it, don't look to the constitution for a right to it, because it ain't there.

  • by johndiii (229824) * on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:46PM (#11341338) Journal
    A GPS device is placed on the truck, probably by its legal owner. The operator of the snowplow, probably a public employee, commits a crime while using the vehicle. The police use the GPS locator, with the likely cooperation of the owner of the vehicle, to find out who committed the crime.

    Makes sense to me. What does the submitter mean "But I don't buy that"? This is supposed to be controversial?

    Wait a minute. This is Slashdot. Information wants to be free. I'm sure that the woman in the coffee shop has a lot more information that she wanted.
  • by Skyshadow (508) * on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:47PM (#11341348) Homepage
    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.

    No, it's completely unlike those.

    A wiretap allows police access to a conversation they normally would be unable to hear. When you're driving on the road, everyone can see you anyhow. There's an expectation that a phone conversation in your house will be private, thus the need for a court to order the wiretap. There's no expectation of privacy on the road.

    A brick of coke is illegal. If the cops plant it in your car then "find" it, you will go to jail. A police GPS unit, on the other hand, is not. You will not go to jail if the cops plant a GPS unit on your car and then "find" it.

    A GPS unit does not incriminate you anymore than, say, the police following you would.

  • by laughingcoyote (762272) <barghesthowl@NospAm.excite.com> on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:54PM (#11341450) Journal

    Perhaps, those who feel that this is a fine practice can explain to me, then, why court orders are required for bugs, wiretaps, and the like. Does information you transmit off your property, over the phone lines, have "no reasonable expectation of privacy?" Clearly, the courts have decided differently, and warrants are required for police to covertly plant such technological surveillance devices.

    I don't see this as any different. The police could, for example, track your whereabouts with one of these devices even when you are in a private location (for example, an enclosed garage), or when you are out of their jurisdiction. If they have a court order to do this, that is acceptable. If they do not, this would be far too great a power with far too little oversight.

    It sounds like, in most of these cases, a court order/warrant could have been obtained by the police. If it becomes permissible for police agencies to place these devices without suspicion or warrant, what is, in theory, to stop them from planting such devices on every vehicle in existence, and randomly monitoring your activities? This is the reason for mandatory oversight by the courts-it is a check and balance on the power of the executive, law-enforcement branch of government. We advocate removing that check at our own peril.

  • by realdpk (116490) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:54PM (#11341451) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if someone found the GPS unit, they'd be able to legally sell it on eBay? :)
  • by YankeeInExile (577704) * on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:56PM (#11341482) Homepage Journal

    So, what is the qualitative difference between using a piece of technology (surreptitiously placed location transponder) and a human (plainclothes cop)?

    Both allow the police to track your whereabouts, and both require specificity of target. In fact, just because of the specificity - I would argue a police-placed tracking device would have a stronger case in court, than the police subpoenaing the logs of a snow-plow operator's tracking logs.

    Placing a wiretap requires a court order, because there has been found to be an expectation of privacy when you use your telephone.

    The recent court found, that there is no expectation of privacy when a person is driving around. Any person on the street can see your vehicle and, assuming they have sufficient visual acuity, see that you are operating it.

    The brick of cocaine metaphor is a total red herring -- planting false evidence is not allowed in any country with a modicum of respect for rule of law. The analogy further breaks down: Your position, per se, is not evidence of the commission of a crime (although there are cases where it is and an appeals court could easily see that case differently.)

  • Re:bugs (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gnugie (757363) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @06:58PM (#11341507)
    It is akin to planting a bug in my car.

    No it's not. People typically can't hear a conversation in your car. People can, however, follow your car wherever you drive. The bug gives them access to something they couldn't otherwise get. The GPS gives them the same information any other driver on the road already has.

  • Re:RTFFA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:02PM (#11341556)

    I am of of the opinion that following a particular person around constantly, whether in their vehicle or on foot, in my mind constitutes an unreasonable search of their person if there is not a court order. I'm sure large bodies of legal precedent will disagree with me, but I wonder if the founding fathers would. I suspect those who had fought so recently to fight for their freedom against an oppressive government would probably view this as a sickening symptom of just such a government.

    Things will have to get much worse before many comfortable Americans get off their butts and actually do something about the situation though. Recent surveys indicate most Americans think politicians are corrupt and dishonest. But no one seems to be willing to do anything about it because there is no one else to vote for. Sad.

  • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:03PM (#11341583) Homepage Journal
    These things aren't free, nor would the infrastructure to monitor a lot of them be free either.
  • Re:Can of worms (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kokoloko (836827) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:05PM (#11341593)
    The same thing that stops them from placing random people under surveillance. It's a waste of time and effort.
  • by trentblase (717954) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:06PM (#11341611)
    This doesn't sound like it's too different than a wiretap or audio bug planted on something

    I agree -- and therefore it's consistent that they should need a warrant.

  • by SydShamino (547793) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:09PM (#11341658)
    Posted again, since the question is asked again and again...

    ----- Disclaimer -----
    With a court order to specifically track this guy, I have no problem with them using a GPS transponder attached to his vehicle. This is in reply to parent poster's quote "it's a little absurd to expect privacy while you're on the road." It sounds like the parent poster would be fine if the government put GPS trackers on every car, because they could tail every person with a cop already.
    ----- /Disclaimer -----

    You don't get to be "private" in public, per se, but I do feel it is important that you be able to be "anonymous" in many cases.

    "So, how can you be anonymous when you have a license plate?" you might ask.

    Simple, there are 300 million people in the country and, at any given time, no one -cares- to read your plate and track where you are. If you commit a crime, or if someone with a similar car committed a crime, then sure, a police officer might see your car and check your plates. But, if they don't match, the officer will move on. The event is eventually forgotten and there is no "proof" that the event ever happened.

    Automatic location tracking changes that. 25 years from now, someone can go back to a GPS database and see where you were last night. This where anonymity is lost.

    Let's assume you buy pr0n from a shop. Your license plate is visible to all who care to look, but again, -no one cares-. Now add a GPS tracker, and, at a later date, the names of every person who ever visited the store can be retrieved. There goes your political career.

    Let's assume you go to church. Again, outside of the church itself -no one cares-. But, add a tracker, and the government knows everyone who visted a certain mosque, ever. Or, they know everyone who attended mass last weekend.

    In summary, yes, if there is reason to care, the government can already track you in public. But this takes the efforts of a human, which means it is rare, costly, and, most importantly, not permanent. Eliminate human involvement from the monitoring and it becomes routine, pervasive, and, worst of all, permanent.

    --- Update ---
    Since the last time I posted this in response to the same question, a judge has agreed with me!

    On election day, some people were copying down the license plate numbers of people voting (in Ohio IIRC). A judge ordered them to stop. Although they were driving on public roads to polling places on public property open to the public, a judge recognized that they had the right not be tracked.
  • by Stalus (646102) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:14PM (#11341738)

    "Moran had no expectation of privacy in the whereabouts of his vehicle on a public roadway."

    So was this GPS smart enough to turn off when he wasn't on a public roadway? Perhaps while his car was in his driveway? Some neighborhoods' streets are not public. Parking lots aren't public. Granted, an officer tailing him could likely establish the same information, but assuming that the car is always on public property is silly.

  • Too easy (Score:1, Insightful)

    by This Is Ridiculous (234241) <brentdax AT cpan DOT org> on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:20PM (#11341839) Homepage
    To me, the issue here isn't whether or not somebody has an expectation of privacy about where they're driving; it's whether this makes it too easy for the police to track a person.

    Much has been made of the analogy of an unmarked car tailing you. But the difference is that having an unmarked car tail you is a significant commitment of resources. If you think you might have seen a guy with a hooker last week, you're not going to assign two cops and a car to follow him around for the next month in case he picks up another one.

    But if all it takes is to attach a GPS tag to the bottom of his car and a computer in HQ will pop up a message if he visits a motel, well, why not? Meanwhile, this innocent guy is having his every move watched by the cops--and risking a police raid if a friend flies into town and asks for a ride from the motel to his room.

    This is another step towards wholesale surveillance, which I truly consider to be one of the most troubling possibilities of our time. Wholesale surveillance would waste everybody's time, destroy privacy, and likely turn people into even dumber sheep than they already are.
  • Re:Your car (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:27PM (#11341930)
    "So what if it's not in the car. It's still being put on my property."

    Good point. Could they mount a camera over your front door to monitor your coming and going? How is this different? They're sticking something on your property to monitor you.
  • by rworne (538610) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:28PM (#11341953) Homepage
    Ah yes. But the police secretly put the device on the car. What happens when they want to get it back? In the Peterson case, they impounded the vehicle to get it back.

    If they take it off secretly, then how is the driver ever going to know they were once the subject of an investigation? How is it possible to prove that the tag was on the suspect's vehicle at all times? This is why a warrant would be a good idea.

    Using technology to make law enforcement's job easier to observe/record/bug people is counterproductive to the rights of individuals. The middle ground is to make the observation job difficult enough so that reasonable suspicion is required to undertake the effort. This alone can prevent many abuses.
  • I like EFF, but... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sloppy (14984) * on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:31PM (#11341975) Homepage Journal
    ..their attitude on this is short-sighted.
    "I think they should get court orders," said Lee Tien, staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "We're in a world where more and more of our activities can be viewed in public and, perhaps more importantly, be correlated and linked together."
    It's just amazing that someone can be so aware of the danger and yet, simultaneously naive.

    You are responsible for securing your own privacy. The world is a big, ugly, potentially dangerous place, and you can never count on the law to protect privacy.

    If you are leaking information all over the place, why is it that Big Brother is the only party who you are worried about? Demanding that He be honor-bound to not take advantage of it, is just treating the symptom. Everyone else, from organized crime, to oh-so-pleasant marketing researchers, to the PI that your wife hired to find out why you always smell like you took a shower when you were supposedly out bowling, can still pull this shit. If someone can put a tracker on your car, overzealous law enforcement is only one of your problems.

    So what are you going to do about it? Close your eyes to the general danger and tell your elected government that they simply must be gentlemanly about it, and then declare the problem is solved? Or pull your head out and accept reality: you do not have privacy unless you take matters into your own hands and make sure you have privacy.

    EFF, if you think privacy is important (and I know you do), then quit working on the regulations angle. Work on the deregulations angle. Let's go after the laws that require anti-privacy be built into tech (e.g. stuff like CALEA), and keep funding crypto-related software projects.

    We'll have privacy not when Big Brother is required to follow rules to prevent peeking, but when we have the power and right to prevent anyone we want to, from peeking. And that power has to work, whether the peeker plays by any rules or not. If you address the general case, then you'll take care of Big Brother just as well.

  • by Dark Demon (575498) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:32PM (#11341991)
    So following this logic, couldn't we GPS tag police cars?
  • As opposed to: (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ucblockhead (63650) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:33PM (#11341998) Homepage Journal
    "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 he was being followed by an unmarked police car, without a court order by state police."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:38PM (#11342063)
    > This also doesn't sound too different from a pair of cops in an unmarked car following the GPS'd car wherever it goes.

    You are aware that ongoing surveillance of any kind that isn't solely limited to public data requires a warrant?
  • by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:48PM (#11342179) Homepage
    May question is why do the police have the right to tamper with someones car?
    Let's flip it around a bit ...

    It's certainly legal for an individual to follow a police car around, as long as they don't break any other laws. (Speeding, possibly stalking, though that would require other things as well.)

    But would it be legal for Joe Citizen to put a tracking bug like this on a cop car?

    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 ...

    This ruling really needs to be appealed, and soon.

  • by Cecil (37810) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @07:53PM (#11342257) Homepage
    I mean, the government put the pavement under his tires, too...

    This is one of the things that really gets on my nerves. The government is not supposed to be like some company that demands reimbursement for providing a service to you. The government is you. They didn't pay for the roads. You paid for the roads, with your taxes. The government is simply your agent. You elect them, you fund them, they work for you. Somewhere along the line, this has been forgotten, and the government now acts just like a corporation, and exploits the public just like the corporations do. "What can I get away with today?" seems to be the mentality.

    It's not the government's right to do anything unless it's doing it on behalf of the majority of the people. Only in a few very rare cases should it be allowed to do otherwise, and only when it needs to protect the public from themselves. It should only go so far.
  • by Moofie (22272) <lee.ringofsaturn@com> on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @08:39PM (#11342836) Homepage
    So why don't we just have the cops follow people around with an unmarked car?

    Answer: Because they want to do it a whole lot, and GPS is cheap. This is not OK.
  • by KingSkippus (799657) on Wednesday January 12, 2005 @10:19PM (#11344013) Homepage Journal
    I can't remember a better insane example of how much these words, once a source of pride to the citizens of this country, are mere notions with no basis in reality any more.

    U.S. District Judge David Hurd wrote that "Moran had no expectation of privacy in the whereabouts of his vehicle on a public roadway." Sorry, judge, but yes, he did.

    When I drive somewhere in my car, I think it's perfectly reasonable to expect that I am not being followed and tracked by law enforcement when they have no probable cause to do so.

    Don't you expect that privacy? Think about it: Even though you have committed no crime and the police have no compelling reason to think you have done so, wouldn't it surprise you if you found a map on the wall of the local police station with times and locations of everywhere you've driven for the past few weeks? I sure as hell would surprise me and make me more than a little mad if I found out they've been tracking me!

    With this judge's idiotic decision, he has sanctioned police to be able to legally collect detailed tracking information for any person at any time for any reason--or even no reason at all! Given the state of today's technology, the judge has, through this decision, decided that it would even be legal for police to simply put GPS bugs with serial numbers on EVERYONE'S car so that they could simply trace every single person in anticipation of them possibly commiting a crime!

    Hopefully the people of New York will realize that this is gross infringement on their freedoms and react accordingly.

    In the article, it says of a different case, "In placing the electronic devices on the undercarriage of the Toyota 4Runner, the officers did not pry into a hidden or enclosed area." Excuse me, but the undercarriage of a car is not hidden? Does this mean that every time I get in my car to go somewhere, I should check the undercarriage of my car for bugs? What would the police do if I found one of their bugs, removed it, and smashed it to pieces? Probably arrest me for destruction of public property and obstruction of so-called "justice."

    This is a clear case of judges tossing out the spirit and meaning of the law and simply coming up with wild interpretations suitable to their whims. I expect this kind of thing from lawyers, but from judges, it's simply intolerable, and represents a gross corruption of our legal system away from the people and towards an oppressive government.

    I swear that I will never again pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, nor will I allow my kids to. At one time it was an important symbol of ideals I treasured, but it is painfully obvious that it no longer stands for a republic that believes in freedom and liberty for all. I am ashamed of this kind of behavior. Hopefully someday, things will change and I may believe in it once again.
  • Haven't you heard? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bizitch (546406) on Thursday January 13, 2005 @12:12AM (#11344997) Homepage
    Everyone forfits about half the bill of rights now whenever you get behind the wheel of car.

    The - "its a privilage - not a right" - argument is always trotted out on stories like these.

    Its always interesting to see how government reacts to things they call "privilages" - they immediately curtail rights in a very predictable kneejerk fashion.

    This is why governments suck and (as our founding fathers knew) you need to keep an iron boot of restraint on the neck of government otherwise you end up being abused.
  • by Max Threshold (540114) on Thursday January 13, 2005 @12:27AM (#11345089)
    I'll tell you where I expect privacy, got it?
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday January 13, 2005 @12:27AM (#11345094) Homepage Journal
    If someone puts a flyer on you windshield, you're littering if you drop it on the ground, right? I figure if they put a tracker on my car, it's mine.

I bet the human brain is a kludge. -- Marvin Minsky

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