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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 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.

"My sex life is pretty good" -- Steve Jobs' random musings during the 2010 D8 conference

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