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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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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.

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