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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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Vice Versa
By pauldovi on 8/14/2008 10:46:32 AM , Rating: 5
I wonder how the police would feel if I stuck a GPS on all of their cruisers. I could easily avoid traffic violations that way, among other things.

If it is legal for the cops to do to regular Joe's, why can't regular Joe do it to the cops?

RE: Vice Versa
By rcc on 8/14/2008 10:56:25 AM , Rating: 5
I wonder how the police would feel if I stuck a GPS on all of their cruisers.

Many police departments have GPS tracking on their patrol vehicles. Some object, some don't. In Mexico City, there was a high incidence of antenna breakage, and a few covered by aluminum foil. : )

I have no problem with people being tracked on the job. Off the job, hmmmm, jury is still out.

RE: Vice Versa
By Grast on 8/14/2008 12:36:23 PM , Rating: 2
I worked for a sheriff's agency in which gps was installed on every car. It is use for public and officer safety. While some of the officer's did not like their car location blinking on a big map in the dispatch office, it came in handy when they needed help and did not have the ability to radio such as when fighting with a suspect.

Your comment is a moot point as most agencies which have the money are moving to gps for all patrol cars. It makes since for safty of the officer, better use of their time, and most importantly faster response.

Whether you believe it or not, police are reactive agency no proactive. The police do not have the ability to prevent crimes. They simply have the ability to react and find the people which have already comitted a crime and put in jail.


RE: Vice Versa
By ksherman on 8/14/2008 1:09:55 PM , Rating: 2
I think what he wants is the ability, as an average citizen, to know where all the police cars are at a given moment. Next gen Radar detectors :)

RE: Vice Versa
By Laughing all the way 2220 on 8/14/2008 6:01:28 PM , Rating: 2
If it is such a valuable tool for the police (and many agree it is), then why don't they go through the process of obtaining a warrant? It's not that difficult. All it takes is conducting a PROPER investigation.
What they are doing now is either being lazy or they've come to a dead end. Using the device in either case is ILLEGAL! What these agencies want is to close the case in the fastest way possible no matter what and that is unethical. What law enforcement does not need is to have it's character questioned. If it's a case where life or death is imminent, the officer should be aware that there will probably be a reprimand and there should be a process in place to review that. Below is the process to obtain a warrant.

"Under normal circumstances a search warrant cannot be obtained unless the request for it is supported by facts, supplied under oath from a law enforcement officer, that are sufficient to convince the court that a crime has been or is being committed."
"To show probable cause, the police usually provide the judge or magistrate with information in the form of written affidavits, which report either their own observations or those of private citizens or police undercover informants. If the magistrate believes that the information is sufficient to establish probable cause to conduct a search, he or she will issue a warrant. Though the suspect is not present when the warrant is issued and therefore cannot contest its issuance, he can later challenge the validity of the warrant before trial."
-Introduction to Criminal Justice By Larry J. Siegel, Joseph J. Senna

RE: Vice Versa
By TOAOCyrus on 8/14/2008 10:04:54 PM , Rating: 2
The thing it hasn't been determined if if this is illegal or not. Police have the right to conduct surveillance without a warrant (that doesn't include wiretapping) and you could argue that this is just a more effective way of doing it.

RE: Vice Versa
By Targon on 8/15/2008 9:33:42 AM , Rating: 2
There is a basic concept of probable cause needed before conducting such practices though. Now, what constitutes probable cause, just looking funny, having a speech problem, being handicapped or of a certain gender/race? This has always been the issue with these sorts of things.

Now, just looking only involves the time of the police officer. The moment a tool is needed to aid in an investigation, a warrant SHOULD be required. Tapping the phone lines is the perfect example of this, as does the use of advanced microphones or other pieces of equipment.

There is a basic concept that if you look for something wrong, and just wait, something WILL show up, no matter how minor it may be. This includes things like people not following the rules of recycling or making a right on red when there is a sign that says no right on red(the sign may not be in a good location so may be missed in some cases). The police would suffer just as much from these sorts of things if THEY were monitored the way they feel they should be monitoring other people.

If the police want to be able to do this sort of thing when they feel like it, they should be required to call it in first, so there is a paper trail saying why they are doing something. In that way, patterns of abuse can also be caught. It is NEVER a good idea to allow this sort of behavior without some sort of oversight.

RE: Vice Versa
By daar on 8/15/2008 11:53:51 AM , Rating: 2
They don't go through with the warrants because it takes time to process and is especially a hassle in areas with a large drug dealer base. I personally wouldn't mind if they suspected me of such things and placed a tracker in my car.

So long as it's not a video camera where they can see me scratching my crotch or wearing high heels. Cuz that's personal.

RE: Vice Versa
By rollakid on 8/14/2008 8:17:05 PM , Rating: 3
I want one of those blinking maps thingy in my car :D

RE: Vice Versa
By PrezWeezy on 8/14/2008 1:10:18 PM , Rating: 5
I was thinking the exact same thing. It'd be really nice to be able to look at my map and decide to not take one street or another.

I think we have a major issue in this society where people are afraid of police. I think a large ammount of people have, because of this, lost their respect for law enforcement. Every time I see a cop run a red light or go speeding down the street, or they pull up to an intersection and don't want to wait for a light so they flip on the siren and turn it off on the other side; I just think how nice it would be to give them a ticket. It's a horrible thing to think but if you are going to enforce, you should first exemplify. If you can't do that you shouldn't be allowed to wear a badge. And consequently, I find myself disliking cops who, I'm sure for the most part, are great people and just trying to do their job. This is one more step on a slippery slope to causing people to feel the need to rebel against police. Should it get out of hand I fear more police will end up getting hurt just because of the actions of a few irresponsible officers.

RE: Vice Versa
By walk2k on 8/14/2008 1:27:19 PM , Rating: 3
You can always fight back with the most powerful weapon ever invented - the video camera:

RE: Vice Versa
By Blight AC on 8/14/2008 2:46:17 PM , Rating: 3
Do be aware, that sometimes the police do need to approach a crime scene quickly and silently in order to get a jump on a suspect. For example, an intrusion alarm. If the cop comes blaring his sirens down the street, it's likely the suspect will be alerted to police presence and be able to avoid detection.

However, I do agree with some of your sentiment, I've seen enough cops not use blinkers, and speed down streets without at least using their flashing lights warning motorists and pedestrians of the danger.

RE: Vice Versa
By encryptkeeper on 8/14/2008 3:51:35 PM , Rating: 2
It's a horrible thing to think but if you are going to enforce, you should first exemplify.

I don't find that to be horrible at all. What's horrible is we've slipped back to thinking "the ends justify the means" in the U.S. Inspecting laptops and iPods at international borders has yielded a few busts for people holding child porn: at the cost of civil liberties and privacy for an untold number of innocent civilians. Phone companies are required to give up records of phone activity, again at the expense of privacy for the average person. The government can wiretap phone lines without warrants. They want to be able to tell women what they can and can't do with their bodies. What's next? Censorship of the press? It's all so our country is "safer". I feel less safe than I did 7 years ago, and so should everyone else.

RE: Vice Versa
By wordsworm on 8/17/2008 3:58:22 AM , Rating: 2
A policeman's job is to find as many people as they can to put in jail. Don't ever trust a policeman. Never even talk to them. Don't let them into your house or inspect your car. If they ask you a question, don't answer. Call your lawyer. Everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law, whereas everything that you do say that could be used in your defense is 'hearsay'.

It's shocking, but 1/4 people are in jail for making confessions to crimes that they never committed because of police tactics. Don't believe me? Check this out:

There are also a few videos that teach you how to deal with police. Police are not your friends. They get paid for convicting people, not for setting them free.

Keep in mind, that despite the belief that you're innocent until proven guilty, most juries figure that you're guilty until proven innocent, and it's the jury's opinion that matters.

RE: Vice Versa
By eldakka on 8/18/2008 2:36:15 AM , Rating: 2
A policeman's job is to find as many people as they can to put in jail. Don't ever trust a policeman. Never even talk to them. Don't let them into your house or inspect your car. If they ask you a question, don't answer. Call your lawyer.

I agree completely.

I once tried to be 'helpful' to some police enquiries and ended up before a magistrate for something I didn't do (I had a housemate at the time...).

The case was dismissed (the magistrate didn't even have to deliberate, she dismissed it without retiring to consider), but it still cost me 1 year of unemployment (in a $100k+ job) as well as $25k in legal fees (and that's after receiving $10k from the state towards legal fees).

RE: Vice Versa
By rippleyaliens on 8/14/08, Rating: -1
RE: Vice Versa
By UatuTheWatcher on 8/14/2008 2:44:07 PM , Rating: 2
My problem is that nobody with the incredible power and responsibility that police have should operate without a balance. Warrants are tangible, and require justification to be issued.

This is the same as why your company has security policies preventing any employee who wants to from entering the NOC or from accessing customer payment card information. The large majority of employees are trustworthy, but security and culpability still need to be in place.

While I believe the vast majority of officers are good people doing the best they can, there's always the exception:

RE: Vice Versa
By BadAcid on 8/14/2008 3:31:31 PM , Rating: 2
What if a cop was able to track a kid, abduct a kid, molest the kid, and kill the kid, all because he stalked it with a GPS tracking device placed unconstitutionally, and was able to catch the kid when he/she was alone? Police are people, too. There's good ones and evil ones just as there is with any population.

My cell phone is turned off 6 days of the week, and only on for 4 hours on saturday or sunday. None of my cars have GPS tracking devices, I know how to read a map, thanks. That's MY CHOICE to not be reachable by an automated system. What the cops are doing here is taking away that CHOICE, that FREEDOM.

RE: Vice Versa
By CSMR on 8/14/2008 4:01:34 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder how policemen would feel if regular Joe's started arresting them. I wonder how judges and juries would feel if defendants started convicting and sentencing them. I wonder how my boss would feel if I sacked him tomorrow.

RE: Vice Versa
By phxfreddy on 8/14/2008 5:06:59 PM , Rating: 2
...... they do not let US see the data of where the cop car is......

RE: Vice Versa
By Pwnt Soup on 8/15/2008 10:03:38 AM , Rating: 2
try this on for size, since most police cars have radio and or somekind of cell phone or data link back too the station house, couldent a system of tracking be worked out using existing means? or if they have GPS instaled how hard would it be too scan the comunication between car and station too set up a tracking device or service? if they want too see my location at all times, sure would be nice too know where they are too... after all whats good for the goose...

RE: Vice Versa
By JustTom on 8/21/2008 2:36:21 PM , Rating: 2
While I am very unsure that police should be allowed to place tracking GPS units without warrants the thought that locations of police patrol units being publicly available in real time is ludicrous. That is what I want: the neighborhood burglar knowing the closest cop is a 15 minute drive from my house.

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