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Privacy The Courts Transportation Your Rights Online

Massachusetts Police Can't Place GPS On Autos Without Warrant 194

Posted by Soulskill
from the good-news-suspects dept.
pickens writes "The EFF reports that the Supreme Court of Massachusetts has held in Commonwealth v. Connolly that police may not place GPS tracking devices on cars without first getting a warrant, reasoning that the installation of the GPS device was a seizure of the suspect's vehicle. Search and seizure is a legal procedure used in many civil law and common law legal systems whereby police or other authorities and their agents, who suspect that a crime has been committed, do a search of a person's property and confiscate any relevant evidence to the crime. According to the decision, 'when an electronic surveillance device is installed in a motor vehicle, be it a beeper, radio transmitter, or GPS device, the government's control and use of the defendant's vehicle to track its movements interferes with the defendant's interest in the vehicle notwithstanding that he maintains possession of it.' Although the case only protects drivers in Massachusetts, another recent state court case, People v. Weaver in the State of New York, also held that because modern GPS devices are far more powerful than beepers, police must get a warrant to use the trackers, even on cars and people traveling the public roads."
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Massachusetts Police Can't Place GPS On Autos Without Warrant

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  • by EmagGeek (574360) <gterich@aol . c om> on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @09:44AM (#29592637) Journal

    You cannot be forced to provide testimony or evidence against yourself. By tracking your vehicle, the state is forcing you to disclose your location at all times against your will, which is also a violation of the 5th.

    This is the same reason why you cannot be forced to reveal the encryption keys on your computer by your own will.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <> on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @09:48AM (#29592695)

    The idea that somehow installing a tracking device interferes with the owner's use of the vehicle is preposterous. It is even more preposterous to make that claim if the owner has no knowledge of the installation of the device.

    Neither is this a matter of illegal search and seizure, as the movements of a car can be tracked directly by having a car follow it everywhere. The tracking device does nothing more than make this an automated task.

    The courts are wrong here and it does nothing but empower criminals and reduce the avenues of justice for the average citizen. This type of weakening of police powers is precisely why groups like the Yakuza are able to get away with so much in Japan. By skirting the very edges of the law, they are able to remain untouchable while those they terrorize are very likely to overstep their legal bounds due to the inability of the police to successfully remove the true criminals.

    I don't support the EFF because I don't support this type of pseudo-YRO type of knee-jerk ideology. Pure ideology is fine, but when it runs afoul of reality it must bend.

  • Bait cars? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Avalain (1321959) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @09:50AM (#29592713)
    Would this law come into play in the use of bait cars? On one side the police would be tracking a suspect via GPS installed on a car without a warrant. On the other side it would be the cops own vehicle instead of the suspects. Common sense tells me that bait cars would be perfectly fine, but I can still see a car thief using this ruling as a defense.
  • by ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @09:59AM (#29592835)
    Sufficient quantitative differences can become qualitative ones. If a police officer is required to take time out of his day to tail a car, then it will likely be for a good reason; they simply don't have the manpower to tail people without cause. If they can just slap a GPS tracker on any car without a warrant, it becomes trivial to troll for suspects. Requiring a warrant is perfectly reasonable: If they have probable cause, they can ask a judge for a warrant. They can still install the device secretly, so the suspect isn't aware of it, but there is some level of oversight. If police aren't constrained, they *will* overstep their bounds, because their goal is to catch lawbreakers, not protect rights. It's not maliciousness (in most cases), they just prioritize law enforcement. We have judges, theoretically, to act as a check on that power, to ensure that the pursuit of lawbreakers does not unduly affect the innocent. Requiring a warrant is a perfectly reasonable way to do this.
  • by redelm (54142) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:43AM (#29593463) Homepage

    Why should the police be worried about getting a warrent? It is not as if officers are walking around with GPS devices to plant on suspects they suddenly see. No, these are planned operations with justification. Then why not get a warrent?

    Police should not be wasting public resources nor possessing and exercising excessive discretion in "following hunches". Get the warrent. Its' easy.

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:45AM (#29593499) Homepage

    I agree! Also, we should be able, without warrant, to put trackers on all police cars, and local, State and Federal legislators'. And yours.

    It's OK; if you don't commit any crimes - or go near any, or have your vehicle stolen or borrowed, or are accidentally misidentified through a flaw in the flawless system - then you have nothing whatever to worry about.

    Fair enough?

  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:55AM (#29593639) Journal

    >>>>>This type of weakening of police powers... groups like Yakuza

    As scary as those types of groups (like KKK) may be, the group called "the police" are FAR scarier. Just check out these videos for yourself:
    - unlawful search of innocent driver []

    - unlawful arrest of Professor Gates []

    - eating of an innocent pastor by police. His story []
    - Actual video of beating []

    - unknown person getting beaten []

    - guy has already surrendered, but the cps start kicking him in the head []

    - I could go on and on and on with vide-after-video, but instead I'll share my own personal story:

    I was on a VACATION doing a crosscountry trip from California to D.C. when I got stopped in Texas. I was nowhere near a border but for some reason the border patrol stopped me and demanded to see inside my trunk. I asked for a warrant and they said they had none. They asked me to step out of my car, and made me stand for an HOUR in the cold night air while they kept demanding to see inside my trunk. They did a visual search of my driver seat, passenger seat, and rear seat, but kept insisting they want to see inside my trunk. Finally they said, "You're not going to let us see your trunk?" And I said "not without a warrant... no." They then ordered me to get in the car and drive off.

    What. The. Hell. Are we no longer allowed to enjoy a simple vacation without getting harassed by the Yakuza...oops I mean the Gestapo... oops I mean the U.S Feds???

  • Re:What is very sad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @11:01AM (#29593741) Homepage Journal

    Great, common sense wins for once. If the cops really need to track someone, they can still do so. It only takes a short period of time to ask a judge to sign a warrant. If a judge isn't willing to sign the warrant, then the cops have no case, simple as that. Lazy cops who would rather rely on technology instead of "police work" have no business being a cop.

  • by XnavxeMiyyep (782119) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @11:03AM (#29593769)
    How is the GPS installation physically performed? Do they have a cop walk up to a car and clip it onto the bottom, all while hoping no one notices? What if the car is in a garage? What if you see them putting the GPS on your car, after they have obtained a warrant? Are you allowed to take it off?
  • by mark-t (151149) <markt&lynx,bc,ca> on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @11:07AM (#29593833) Journal
    Here's a question though.... if the owner has no knowledge of the installation of such a monitoring or tracking device, but later discovers it, is he or she committing any crime by disposing of it on their own? Particularly considering the fact that if they did not know about it, they would not necessarily have any reason to realize why it was there in the first place, and in some cases not even realize exactly what it is.
  • Re:TERRORISM!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nadaka (224565) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @11:28AM (#29594197)

    silly rabbit. Civil liberties are not for kids.

    Really. Just take one look at the average school board handing out restrictions left and right to children.
    Thou shalt wear the uniform approved by the state, thou shalt not disrupt class by having the wrong color hair.
    Thou shalt not express wear the any symbol of a faith other than our own (crosses are ok, pentagrams, jewish and islamic symbols are not).
    Thou shalt not question our authority to suppress you beneath our jack booted thugs.
    Thou shalt not have tattoos or piercings, thou shalt not be gay, etc.

    Children have no rights and no real representation, yet when they do work they are taxed, when they spend money they are taxed (in locations with sales tax).
    Yet they can not vote, nor can they legally protest. This bothered me when I was young, and it still bothers me now that I am old.
    Unfortunately I have no answers, no solutions.
    Allowing young workers and buyers to go tax free would inevitably be exploited.
    Allowing the vote is not a good idea due to their lack of knowledge and critical thinking (though the same could be said for many adults).

There's no future in time travel.