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GPS trackers are remarkably small and easy to plant on cars. They allow police and other entities to watch citizens wherever they go.  (Source:
While their tactics may be illegal, police in Washington and elsewhere turn to GPS planting to catch crooks

It's the classic story -- a cop using unorthodox techniques, working outside the law to capture crooks.  However, this cop story has a twist -- some unsavory privacy implications that may make some citizens uncomfortable.

The controversy stems from a growing police tactic to plant GPS tracking units on suspects’ cars without warrants.  John Wesley Hall, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers states, "I've seen them in cases from New York City to small towns -- whoever can afford to get the equipment and plant it on a car.  And of course, it's easy to do. You can sneak up on a car and plant it at any time."

Privacy advocates are shocked.  They say that by monitoring the movements of people, many of which are likely innocent, police departments across the country are committing a Big Brother-esque invasion of privacy.  And one state Supreme Court is on their side.  The Washington State Supreme Court ruled that a warrant must be obtained to justify such invasions of privacy.

However, other state supreme courts -- including New York, Wisconsin and Maryland, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago -- have declared that warrants are not needed.

Police praise the practice, saying it has helped them crack tough cases.  They point to cases such as the string of rapes in Fairfax, which were solved when a GPS tracker led cops to convicted rapist David Lee Foltz Jr.  Officer Shelley Broderick, a Fairfax police spokeswoman cautiously praised the device, stating, "We don't really want to give any info on how we use it as an investigative tool to help the bad guys.  It is an investigative tool for us, and it is a very new investigative tool."

They are not alone.  Many other departments have found success using the device to track suspected thieves, drug dealers, sexual predators and killers.  Privacy advocates say we're losing Constitutional protections for minimal gains, though.  They say the practice constitutes illegal search and seizure and thus violates the fourth amendment.  Police disagree, saying that the devices are just a high tech equivalent of a police tail which costs less and is more accurate.  Usually they're relatively quiet about the practice, though.

Cpl. Clinton Copeland, a Prince George's County police spokesman in Washington acknowledges the practice was used by his department.  He states, "But I don't think that's something [detectives] would be too happy to put out there like that.  They do have different techniques they like to use on suspects, but they don't really want people to know."

However, the devices are gaining attention as police use them in major cases, such New York methamphetamine tracking case or a Wisconsin burglary case.  The devices are gaining attention because suspects’ lawyers are challenging the processes' legality.  Freedom of Information Requests indicate many departments claiming not to use the devices, but many refusing to respond, as well.

Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's technology and liberty program says that GPS monitoring is part of a nationwide trend towards "an always-on, surveillance society."

The debate over continuous monitoring, be it new facial scanning being deployed on highways, or GPS units planted by the police, is a tricky one.  As electronics find more and more presence in our lives, it becomes easier and easier for someone to watch your actions at all times. 

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You don't need a warrant neccessarily
By Noliving on 8/14/2008 10:43:25 AM , Rating: -1
This type of behavior is the same of having a police officer follow a person around. That is why some states are saying you don't need a warrant to do this.

I don't see what the problem is here.

RE: You don't need a warrant neccessarily
By othercents on 8/14/2008 11:00:19 AM , Rating: 5
I don't see what the problem is here.

The difference is that by planting the GPS you can then gather the data after the fact to see if the person did anything or went anywhere they shouldn't have. I like the GPS tracking, but only if it is used as real time tracking just like a tail.

They should require a warrant to gather the data electronically for storage, but no warrant for real time tracking and the real time tracking should have a limited time frame. Tracking someone for months at a time is a little excessive since you probably wouldn't tail someone that long.


RE: You don't need a warrant neccessarily
By FITCamaro on 8/14/08, Rating: -1
By grenableu on 8/14/2008 11:56:29 AM , Rating: 5
What's wrong with getting a warrant first to plant the tracker? That's the whole point of warrants. To make sure police don't intrude on someone unless there's reasonable suspicion of a crime.

RE: You don't need a warrant neccessarily
By tastyratz on 8/14/2008 11:05:50 AM , Rating: 2
I think of it the same way as a police tail, but I think there should be restrictions on its use. I don't thin it should require a warrant, but maybe something along the lines of using gps tracking data requires probable cause but no warrant until 48 hours or if the car has stopped more than 12 hours. Tracking data should be kept strictly as confidential as well.

RE: You don't need a warrant neccessarily
By bigjaicher on 8/14/08, Rating: 0
By SoCalBoomer on 8/14/2008 11:49:47 AM , Rating: 1
you don't need probable cause to follow someone - shoot, you or I could do that right now - so why stick that burden in there?

I don't consider where I drive my car to be private information. My car is pretty obvious and very easy to follow (as long as I don't disappear into a crowd of bigger cars :D )

I don't see a problem with this.

RE: You don't need a warrant neccessarily
By MozeeToby on 8/14/2008 12:59:22 PM , Rating: 2
I agree, with probably cause there really isn't much of an issue here. Even without probably cause I don't have much of a problem with it using today's technology. The problem is 10 or 20 years from now when it will be possible to buy 10,000 gps trackers for $100 and track everyone and everything in the city.

I'd feel a lot better about the future if our congressmen were engineers, programmers, or at least science fiction fans. It seems like a lot of our laws will be moot withing 20 years because technology will have changed so drastically by then, our only real hope is that the courts can keep up and intepret the laws in ways that make sense for the time.

By mindless1 on 8/15/2008 5:29:19 PM , Rating: 2
It's no more right to have it happen to one person than everyone. What you're essentially suggesting is you don't think it'll happen to you by the odds, but that it's ok if it happens to someone else.

There is already a procedure in place for situations like this, if the suspicion against someone is strong enough a court can allow these practices on a case by case basis.

By bobcpg on 8/14/2008 11:26:50 AM , Rating: 5
No its not. That same police officer can not follow you to a different state or even country. How about if you are on private land, GPS will "follow" but a police officer can not.

RE: You don't need a warrant neccessarily
By FITCamaro on 8/14/08, Rating: -1
RE: You don't need a warrant neccessarily
By adiposity on 8/14/2008 12:26:01 PM , Rating: 5
"Results speak for themselves"

Actually, the police are doing the speaking. You have no idea how much these things are used or how effective they are or have been. There is no way to know if the police wouldn't have made the same arrests without the devices. You are trusting the people using the devices to accurately portray their usefulness.

I'm sure putting a government video camera in everyone's home would also lead to more criminals being arrested and perhaps even a reduction in crime. So why aren't we doing this?

Now, personally, I have no problem with the police tracking a criminal they have good reason to suspect. What I don't understand is why they don't think they need a warrant. If they have a good reason to track someone, surely they can get a warrant to do so. Judges allow wiretaps on reasonable suspicion all the time.

As usual, the problem here isn't that the technique being used is inherently bad, it's that the police aren't required to get permission to use the technique. They could go put GPS on every car in the neighborhood, and try to discover criminals that way. If they don't need a warrant, there is no reason they can't do this. If they happen to discover anything private, personal, or embarrassing along the way, well...too bad, I guess.

In the few isolated cases that are cited as proof of the techniques effectiveness, I'm sure the police could have gotten a warrant. But of course they don't want such restrictions, because the less oversight there is, the easier their job is. So what if they are infringing on the privacy of a few civilians in the process?

Personally, I find it pretty annoying that someone can stick something to my car without asking permission from a judge first. If I find it, I'm going to throw it away. Am I then liable for destruction of govt. property? It's also questionable whether these can really be used as evidence. You could stick the device to one car and claim it was on another later. But that's beside the point, I suppose.


RE: You don't need a warrant neccessarily
By nipples04 on 8/14/2008 12:52:46 PM , Rating: 3
You nailed it. Numerous forms of invasive electronic surveillance have already been approved for use by the police, and numerous more are sure to come in the future with technology advancements; but those methods typically require the approval of a court (let's table the patriot act & warrantless wiretapping issues for the moment). This practice allows the police to plant a piece of surveillance equipment on your personal property without your consent (or even knowledge), and they are being allowed to do so without the approval of a court. I'm amazed only a handful of those replying are remotely troubled by this.

I've no doubt that MOST law enforcement personnel are (in general) of sufficient integrity so as to not abuse this privilege. That is not the point. It COULD be abused, and with no checks in place to ensure it is not, what guarantee to I have that my privacy is not invaded?

I'm sure some will argue that driving is not a right, and therefore my enjoyment of said can wantonly be violated by the government. I would agree if they tail me, or watch me from a helicopter; but if they plant something on my private property that absolutely is a violation of privacy just as much as them planting a microchip under my skin or bugging my home phone would be. Furthermore, what if the cop decided he just wanted to plant HIM/HER-SELF in/on my car? Is that ok? They just installed their self (arguably just a piece of police property) in my car. Who's got a problem with that? Who's got a problem with that being allowed with NO CHECK WHATSOEVER?!

I'm sick of this. JUST GET A WARRANT! Government should exist at the pleasure of the governed, not the other way around.

Graduation day is coming

By DigitalFreak on 8/14/2008 6:24:08 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly. It's not like anyone is calling for the devices to be outlawed. All they need to do is get a warrant first. If they don't have enough evidence for a judge to approve one, then they don't deserve it.

RE: You don't need a warrant neccessarily
By TOAOCyrus on 8/14/2008 10:26:11 PM , Rating: 2
Thing is tailing and surveillance is how the police usually gather enough evidence for a warrant. I think probable cause is good enough, I mean police already have the right to search your car with probable cause and without a warrant so this is even less intrusive.

By mindless1 on 8/15/2008 5:37:48 PM , Rating: 2
Except that probable cause is a load of nonsense half the time. I respect police officers trying to do their job, but people can and are suspected of things simply because an officer doesn't understand what they're doing. Case in point, once when we had a bad snowstorm and I couldn't dig my car out to get to the store, I walked there at night. I'm a healthy guy, used to a colder climate and walking in the snow is a trivial thing.

I was stopped and questioned for the better part of a half hour because they assumed I must be up to no good. Maybe I looked suspicious wearing winter wear, a thick coat and a dark cap (not a ski mask). Maybe it's common sense to wear a cap when it's snowing outside. After their questioning they followed me walking along, in their car, until I got to the store. I felt really proud of how my tax dollars were spent that day. Not.

Point is, there's real probable cause and then there's an officer that has nothing better to do and stepped over the line. I don't like having to explain what I am doing to someone if I am not breaking any laws, it's really none of their business otherwise.

RE: You don't need a warrant neccessarily
By walk2k on 8/14/2008 1:05:32 PM , Rating: 2
It's not the same. The GPS doesn't know WHO is driving the car, for one. It also can't tell the difference between someone who parks in front of a strip club but goes into the dry cleaners next door, etc etc etc.. Having human eyes and a human brain (well... a beat cop has something resembling one anyway) vs a computer device is a BIG difference.

Not to even mention the fact that using a computerized automated data collection system would allow them to basically slap a GPS on every citizen's car and record their every movement, and without the requirement for a warrant there would be NOTHING stopping them from doing so.

You don't see the problem... Guess you haven't read much Orwell eh?

By drm67 on 8/14/2008 1:27:37 PM , Rating: 2
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

- Ben Franklin

By TOAOCyrus on 8/14/2008 10:28:38 PM , Rating: 2
I believe there should be restrictions but not necessarily a warrant. Probable cause is all that is needed to search a car as it is.

RE: You don't need a warrant neccessarily
By majBUZZ on 8/14/2008 6:04:02 PM , Rating: 2
If the police don't respect or follow the law how or why should anyone else? Like they say a fish rots from the head down. Hypocrisy is a great way to under mind good intentions.

Kids growing up see a lack of respect for the law from the very people charged with enforcing it, and people wonder why there is such a decline in ethics and morals.

RE: You don't need a warrant neccessarily
By rhangman on 8/14/2008 9:42:46 PM , Rating: 2
Just get a blocker:
Illegal I believe, but then that is hardly going to stop a criminal. Really can't see GPS trackers working as the criminals adapt. So once again it really isn't going to effect the people they say they are targeting.

By mindless1 on 8/15/2008 5:41:22 PM , Rating: 2
If it's important enough to get a blocker, maybe getting one from someplace other than an oriental mail-order shop would be nice. Oops, it didn't work as advertised but you didn't find out till it needed to work? Then again, I suppose if it really needed to work then the suspect probably was up to no good and more attention should be paid to their actions - after getting the warrant to do so.

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