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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: 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).

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