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Secret GPS Tracking Now Legal In Massachusetts 277

dr. fuzz writes "The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ruled in favor of John Law tracking you with secret GPS devices in Massachusetts provided a warrant is obtained. You've been warned. To the dissenters' credit, Justice Ralph Gants is quoted with 'Our constitutional analysis should focus on the privacy interest at risk from contemporaneous GPS monitoring, not simply the property interest.'"
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Secret GPS Tracking Now Legal In Massachusetts

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  • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <> on Thursday September 17, 2009 @04:46PM (#29458721)

    Requires court order. Who has a problem with that? With a court order you can tap phones, plant bugs, install keystroke loggers, just about anything. Seems kinda daft to be maming a fuss about putting a GPS on somebody's car, hell just use the court order to get the cell company to give a feed from their phone.

    • by locallyunscene ( 1000523 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @05:03PM (#29458933)
      Don't worry, we can manufacture all the controversy we need with this story. In truth, it's the perfect /. article. It references Massachusetts in a negative light so someone can make a snide comment about the MIT student who walked into the airport with a circuit board on her chest, or the Mooninite advertising stunt, or even that NDA/tech company comparison between California and Massachusetts article from a couple of weeks ago. Then someone else can link the actual articles and, boom, 6 plus five insightful/informative comments right there.

      It talks about police and wiretapping so we'll get plenty of paranoid theories and the resulting jokes. Plus we're guaranteed a mangled Ben Franklin quote.

      It directly mentions the constitution so we might even get the lingering Ron Paul supporter! I've missed those guys.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Requiem18th ( 742389 )

        And yet no Hitler? Bah ÂÂ...

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Okay. Well I'm one of the principle persons who quotes Franklin and other Founders, but in this case I have no objection. As long as the police have to get a warrant, then there's independent review by an impartial judge, who can reign-in the overzealous boys in blue.

        The real problems happen when, as in the case of Professor Gates, police ignore the requirement for a warrant and just ram their way into homes/car where they don't belong. (Oh and no a phone call is not probable cause according to the supre

        • by Boomerang Fish ( 205215 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @05:53PM (#29459543) Homepage

          The real problems happen when, as in the case of Professor Gates, police ignore the requirement for a warrant and just ram their way into homes/car where they don't belong. (Oh and no a phone call is not probable cause according to the supreme court.)

          OK, I'm probably gonna lose karma for this, but...

          According to [] (and yes I know how flawed Wikipedia can be, but it does seem to fit with what I remember in articles from the time and I don't feel like digging further), The police met Gates at his door and indicated that they were investigating a possible breaking and entering. When asked for ID, Gates entered his house AND LEFT HIS DOOR OPEN so the officer followed.

          Now, IANAL, but if my memory serves from what I've read (and no, I don't want to look it up right now, I'm avoiding work and don't have much time...)
                    (1) Not officially requesting a warrant or explicitly requesting that the officer wait outside DOES give them permission to follow you into your house, especially if you leave the door open.
                    (2) If a crime is suspected to be in progress, a warrant is not required, though it might result in censure of the officer if they can't properly justify it later.

          Now, a possible breaking and entering, a door with obvious damage, and a man who is leaving the officers sight because he "needs to get his ID" is suspicious enough that I suspect that point 2 would be enough.

          As to who said what to whom and was it racial blah blah blah... I haven't commented on that. I'm only saying that the observable facts suggest that the officer had reasonable justification to proceed without a warrant, at least until identification was provided.

          I drank what?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by DudeTheMath ( 522264 )


          rein in


          FTFY. Everything else you said was so good, I couldn't stand to see egregious spelling errors. Oh, and, no, you can't skip the commas in your final parenthetical sentence ("...set off by an exclamation point, or by a comma when the feeling's not as strong" -- "Interjection", Grammar Rock).

          Carry on.

          • >>>I couldn't stand to see egregious spelling errors.

            Does that branch stuck up your anus hurt? This is a CASUAL conversation, not a term paper, so stop being anal retentive.

      • by Tetsujin ( 103070 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @05:24PM (#29459209) Homepage Journal

        It talks about police and wiretapping so we'll get plenty of paranoid theories and the resulting jokes. Plus we're guaranteed a mangled Ben Franklin quote.

        Ooh, ooh, I got one!

        "I am BEN FRANKLIN, master of SEX and VOODOO!"

        I'm not sure if it's exactly relevant to this discussion, though...

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Haxzaw ( 1502841 )
        You forgot to mention that this would have never happened if Ted Kennedy was still around. Of course that kind of sarcasm would be lost on a lot of the /. populous.
    • court orders are rubber stamps. they don't preserve justice anymore. not really.

      • court orders are rubber stamps. they don't preserve justice anymore. not really.

        FISA Court, most likely. These are state courts. They're a lot closer to the governed than Fed courts are. More chances of the populace showing up at their work with torches and pitchforks...

    • by dbet ( 1607261 )
      The thing is, this means what exactly? I'll tell you! :) It means IF your local police do it WITHOUT a court order, then they can't use any evidence collected to convict you of a crime.

      What it does NOT mean is they can't do it. It also does not mean they will get in trouble if they do (they may, but they may not). It also does not mean that judges always approve of things that ought to be approved of.
    • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @05:26PM (#29459243)
      It relies on the flawed argument that a tiny GPS == car == you. With a wiretap you can more or less figure out if it is a different person on the phone. Same with bugs. How many times do we let someone else drive our car? Yeah, it might be someone we trust (spouse, family member, close friend) but they are still driving your car. Cars also are pretty easy to steal. And the GPS receiver is small enough that it can be removed and placed on a different car.
      • Would be pretty hilarious to put it in an envelope and mail it to Japan. What? They're going over WATER!?!?!?

      • Wow, The ultimate defense attorney argument. I don't see the problem, they have to tie the car and you to the location. I can't see a jury being convinced that the location of your car is prima facie evidence that you are co-located with it. It is certainly circumstantial evidence however. We've all seen the remove it and stick it on a different car trick in any number of James Bond like entertainments, and I believe most of us are capable of forming the same thought that Darkness404 here pointed out.
    • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

      Can you sell the GPS tracker on Ebay if you find one stuck to the underside of your car? What's the going rate for a GPS tracker that hasn't been detuned for civilian use? Is it even legal to own/sell? How would that ebay page read? "Uh, found this tracker stuck to the bottom of my car with a magnet. Buyer assumes all risk that US Government may track you down and request it back. Seller assumes no responsibility if you become an assailant in the US Federal court case against me".

      • "Can you sell the GPS tracker on Ebay if you find one stuck to the underside of your car? What's the going rate for a GPS tracker that hasn't been detuned for civilian use?"

        Is there any way to 'scan' your vehicle to screen for the presence of a GPS device?

        • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

          Put your car up on a jack, throw a bunch of steel washers at the bottom of the car, Where they stick, is probably where a magnet (i.e. possible GPS device). Presumably it reports "home" via cell phone signal, so you could setup an antenna to listen for cell phone signals coming from your car.

    • by Alarindris ( 1253418 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @05:34PM (#29459337)
      Who said there was a controversy?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      From the 4th amendment: "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."

      For example: if they think you have a dead body in your broom closet, they can get a search warrant authorizing a search of your broom closet for a dead body. They are not allowed to turn that into a general fishing expedition to search anyplace you might ever have been, for anything they decide is suspicio

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheCarp ( 96830 ) *

      Will have to look into this more. I agree completely, as long as it is "With a court order", that means there is oversight. It also means they can't do it "Willy nilly" or wholesale. It also usually (and this is why I want to read a bit more) means that they eventually have to tell you that they did it (even if the case never goes to prosecution). It also means, that any evidence obtained could end up the root of a very big poisoned tree if the original order is invalidated. (it happens)

      Though, I do wonder

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sjames ( 1099 )

      The problem is that court orders for various privacy invasions seem to be easier to get each year and more and more "exceptions" get invented. First allowing the court order after the fact and then creating a special rubber stamp court to issue them without any real questions asked and practically no consequences for abuses.

      While in theory the police could keep tabs on someone of interest anyway, doing so without a tracking device requires substantial manpower and costs. That's a GOOD thing since the added

  • GPS Blocking (Score:4, Informative)

    by JDeane ( 1402533 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @04:48PM (#29458737) Journal
    I guess if its too much of a problem you could buy one of these things.... [] at a little under 27 USD with no taxes and no shipping I imagine its cheaper then the tracking device.
    • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @04:55PM (#29458831)
      Where can I sign up to become the exclusive Oregon dealer for these GPS blockers? If they pass the mileage-based vehicle tax, I'm gonna be rich!!!
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Either that, or you will force the GPS unit into thinking you've just circumscribed the U.S. of A. several times at Mach 2 and you will have to explain yourself (and pay the speeding ticket).
      • I'm sure the sale of such devices, like radar detectors, would be illegal. BTW I haven't been to Oregon in a long time. Will I still get arrested if I pump my own gas?

        They have a similar law in New Jersey. Last time I was driving the NJ Turnpike, I waited and waited and waited for an attendant but he never showed-up, so finally I just did it myself. When an attendant finally noticed me, he had a fit. I told him to I'm from Maryland and we know how to pump our OWN gas without help. I'm not going to

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by chrylis ( 262281 )

          Radar detectors aren't illegal except in Virginia, and even there, there's a case waiting to be made that federal law governing radio signals preempts the state restriction.

        • by pluther ( 647209 )

          I haven't been to Oregon in a long time. Will I still get arrested if I pump my own gas?

          You never would. But the station may have to pay a fine if enough people complained that they were making you pump your own gas.

        • Oregon and NJ are the only two states that prohibit pumping your own gas. I live in Oregon and they usually try to claim safety. I live in Portland, and it borders another town in Washington which allows people to pump their own gas. If it is so unsafe, why don't I hear about all the gas station explosions that must be happening over there? A-giant-pain-in-the-ass-of-anyone-whose-ever-had-to-wait-while-the-attendant-finally-gets-around-to-you is what I call it. You know, when I'm not out of breath.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by JCSoRocks ( 1142053 )
            Topping off your car in Oregon is illegal now too. Pretty soon it'll be required that you have a hazmat suit and a special "vehicle fuel dispensing" license just to put gas in a car. Ugh.
            • Topping off? Why do people continue doing that? It's unsafe and it's just plain dumb, there's a better than even chance you'll be paying for gas that goes right back into their system.

        • "UK Government Health tells kids to masturbate. Parents pissed.When you have monopoly customer opinions don't matter."
          Ok I need to respond to this. I don't disagree with what you tried to say but I'm a little stuck on disambiguating the part about the monopoly customer opinions. If you put the comma after the "when you have" it makes it seem that after you masterbate, monopoly customer opinions don't matter. if you put the comma after the monopoly then it seems that if you own the game of monopoly th
  • To be fair... (Score:5, Informative)

    by KingSkippus ( 799657 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @04:48PM (#29458739) Homepage Journal

    The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ruled in favor of John Law tracking you with secret GPS devices in Massachusetts provided a warrant is obtained.

    To be fair, that's a lot better than in Wisconsin, where they use secret GPS devices to track you without a warrant [].

    • Re:To be fair... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ShadowRangerRIT ( 1301549 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @05:15PM (#29459071)

      Exactly. The Massachusetts decision makes sense: If you can show probable cause, you can intrude upon a person's privacy, but *only* if you show probable cause. Wisconsin decided that privacy is subordinate to police effectiveness. Problem is, you follow that track too far and you end up with a police state and no rights to speak of. The police don't *intend* to violate your rights, they simply do whatever is allowable to uphold their mandate (keeping the peace). If you don't restrict the range of allowable activities, and they can use technology to supplement their numbers, upholding their mandate most effectively requires them to scan every phone call, track every car, open all mail, etc.

      Technology allows quantitative differences to become qualitative differences: Police can already tail anyone on a public street. But limited numbers mean they are only able to do so for a small number of people, so they tend to have good reasons when they do tail. But if you can track every car effortlessly and keep a database of movements, you can go on fishing expeditions. Someone dumped a body on the side of a highway? Quick, pull up the logs and find every person who passed that stretch of highway recently. Then demand DNA and fingerprint samples from all of them (assuming you haven't already collected them). It's effective, at the cost of invading everyone's privacy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        The police don't *intend* to violate your rights,

        If the police were trustworthy, maybe we could give them more latitude. As it stands, police are best treated like rabid dogs: dangerous creatures that can cause you lots of pain.

  • Jammers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vmxeo ( 173325 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @04:49PM (#29458757) Homepage Journal
    Suddenly I foresee these [] becoming much more popular, and then much less legal (if they even are to begin with).
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by snspdaarf ( 1314399 )

      Suddenly I foresee these [] becoming much more popular, and then much less legal (if they even are to begin with).

      They aren't. The FCC frowns on any device that emits a signal the intent of which is to interfere with another signal. At least, they do for those of us not in government service.

    • $129 just to transmit a steady 100 mW signal at 1575.42 Mhz? Seems like you go do it for a lot cheaper than that... Hmm... I sense a business opportunity.
    • by Rhys ( 96510 )

      Great, now they don't know where you are till you shut off the ignition!

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Not if you plug it into the cigarette lighter socket :)
    • yea, was thinking the same thing...
      According to a news post in boing boing [] and according to the manufacturer's website [], it's for 50$

    • Re:Jammers (Score:4, Insightful)

      by westlake ( 615356 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @07:55PM (#29460805)

      The jammer is a big red arrow that points straight at you. That sort of defeats the purpose if you want to remain inconspicuous.

  • this April 1? Massachusetts isn't big enough to get lost in, much less require a tracking device to find her if she goes off-leash...I mean, someone.
  • if you have one of these under your car or something? i assume they all use ordinary mobile phone networks to phone home but where do they usually put it, can it be anywhere under the car?
    • The article stated that they broke into his car to install it - probably somewhere within the engine. Not sure if it has an onboard battery or if it used the car's power system. I wonder if you found it and removed it what the repercussions would be.
      • if I found an unauthorised GPS tag/tracker on my car, would I be OK to put it up for sale on ebay?

        Me, being a geek, I'd probably hack some interesting tracks into it (can probably download tracks off the internet of people's holidays) including one that would spell out F*** Y** when overlayed on a map.

    • I thought GPS devices needed a relatively clear view of the sky. I'd imagine the body of the car would block the satellite signals, but maybe I'm wrong.

      • The obvious place to install it is under the dashboard or the rear deck. Dashboards are made out of foam and plastic these days and there's plenty of always-on, ignition-on, etc. power under the dash. A rear install is trickier, but a lot of cars have an amplifier back there these days.

    • Here's my question: what happens when you find one under your car? Do you have to leave it there? For how long -- forever?
    • by raddan ( 519638 ) * on Thursday September 17, 2009 @05:17PM (#29459125)
      Fortunately, in Massachusetts, we all ride bicycles. I think they put it on the handlebars or something.
  • No Suprise (Score:2, Interesting)

    Police can do almost anything by with a warrant. However, I would argue that if there is probable cause to track a vehicle with a gps tracking [] that it can be done without a warrant.
    • by KlomDark ( 6370 )

      Probable cause is what's needed to OBTAIN A WARRANT. If you don't have a warrant, even if there's probable cause, then the search/tracking is inadmissable evidence.

  • by SlashDev ( 627697 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @05:04PM (#29458949) Homepage
    Your car doesn't necessarily mean you, in fact in Manhattan, NY, most people don't use their own transportation, and as far as I know, most crimes nowadays are emerging from there :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Of course, if technologically enabled warrantless snooping is okay, they could track which subway entrances were used to determine where you've been. [] In the linked case, tracking confirmed an alibi. But it could just as easily be used for fishing expeditions if not confined to the scope of a warrant based on probable cause.
    • If Massachusetts is tracking Manhattan criminals, there are bigger problems than GPS.

    • No no no... your car IS you... but much like your journal, sometimes you can write a little fiction to keep things interesting. For example:

      1. Discover hidden GPS tracker on car
      2. Drive to orphanage, tell them a friend of yours is interested in picking up a lot of young girls and taking them to his large mansion where he'll keep them safe.
      3. Drive to seedy area of town where "working girls" are located. Park for 2 minutes.
      4. Drive to governor's mansion and ditch car for the night, pick it up in the m
  • .. for more car theft now. Criminal steals your car, commits crime, and you're pretty much toast.
  • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @05:15PM (#29459079)

    Slashdot News Flash! If the cops obtain a warrant, they can do stuff they can't do otherwise!

    Personally, I don't even think a warrant should be necessary, but MA has gone above and beyond here and required one. If your house can be searched, your phone tapped, your DNA scanned, your financial records checked, etc., with a warrant, why not a tracking device on your car?


  • Here's the problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mariox19 ( 632969 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @05:15PM (#29459083)

    Advocates of this sort of thing say it is like having a police officer tail a person of interest. I'm sorry but it is not at all like that.

    Prior to tracking by GPS, if the police wanted to track someone, they had to assign an officer, or multiple officers, to track him. This is the world we lived with, and this world is the context in which we reasoned about whether or not cops should be allowed to tail someone. I'm sure there was very little debate, if any, but that was because the scarcity of police relative to the population was a limit as to how many people the police could tail. It did not occur to us that the police would start tailing everybody, or even very many people. It was simply unimaginable that they would have the resources to invade the public's privacy

    With the advent of GPS, we are now in a completely different economic-political context requiring that we must reconsider the issue and not simply continue right along with the policies put in place in a different world.

    Where once police had to carefully consider whether or not it was worth the expenditure of their limited manpower to tail a person, they now no longer have to. Where once privacy protections were taken for granted by the very nature of what tailing people required, they can no longer be. It is reasonable to consider the possibility that GPS tracking could become widespread for all sorts of issues that would be considered minor, today. The police, as the costs of such tracking drop, will ask themselves "Why not?" The cost to society will be an enormous loss of privacy.

    Don't let anyone try to tell you that there is no privacy issue because cops already tail people.

  • 1. Remove GPS tracking device and attach to neighbor's car.
    2. Have awesome alibis when neighbor goes somewhere
    3. Profit?

  • And here I was thinking on how Massachusetts is our most liberal state, and Liberals as a rule are for privacy and totally against domestic spying.
  • Reasonable? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pro923 ( 1447307 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @07:39PM (#29460657)
    While it might seem like a reasonable law at first glance, realize that unreasonable things usually come to pass in small increments. In five years, you'll have a GPS planted on your car because you've had a speeding ticket at some point in the past, and some day you'll receive a number of citations automatically generated from a computer that used the GPS tracking info to record every time you exceed 65 MPH on route 93.
  • by Legion303 ( 97901 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @08:16PM (#29460983) Homepage []

    $26 GPS blocker. Or you can splurge and get the $80 mini version that plugs into the cigarette lighter.

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