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back to article US Supremes: GPS tracking requires warrant

The US Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that police need to request a warrant before attaching GPS tracking devices to suspects’ cars. “We decide whether the attachment of a Global-Positioning-System (GPS) tracking device to an individual’s vehicle, and subsequent use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements on …

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Now If Only

... it also applied to non-new tech like tracking a car with a radar gun

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You even see them running plates while at a light. The person did nothing wrong (they were stopped before the cop even got there) and had their privacy invaded by having their plate run. Maybe one-day the court will take that one up as well.

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FAIL

Tracking?

A spot check for a vehicle's speed is tracking? Sorry, that easily falls under the category of ensuring public safety, not invasion of privacy.

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Seriously?

Just how do you propose that police attempt to verify the identity of a suspect, or in this case a suspect's vehicle? Do you want police to be barred from apprehending somebody with a warrant issued, unless they are actually caught in progress of committing another crime?

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Anonymous Coward

if only

I could prove being zapped by a laser is health issue, l could get them banned.

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Silver badge

No different from a tip line.

That's why they post mug shots in post offices and the like. Appearance in plain sight does not constitute a search, and anyone (including the police) is able to look up information they discover in plain sight (like a car's tag ON A PUBLIC--aka GOVERNMENT-OWNED--STREET). Granted, a police database probably has information not available to the public, but it's part of their job. If the car's owner has an outstanding warrant or the car has a crime report attached (ie. it was stolen), then the police have reasonable suspicion to perform a traffic stop.

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Anonymous Coward

tracking

Using "ensuring public safety" can cover a whole variety of intrusive activity which invades privacy. Surely stopping everyone and strip searching them to ensure they dont have dangerous weapons or explosives inside body cavities is just ensuring public safety.

That the police keep a record of who has been searched where, which allows for data mining to see where people are going is just a side effect which further enhances public safety.

Well done Killraven we can boldly go into the new world order.

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Anonymous Coward

@Killrave - stop checks

"Just how do you propose that police attempt to verify the identity of a suspect, or in this case a suspect's vehicle?

Through proper policing methods. As normal. Rather than checking the plates of every passing vehicle on the off chance one is a criminal.

Do you think they should also set up ID check stations on the pavement so that criminals cant simply evade detection by using someone elses car or being on foot?

"Do you want police to be barred from apprehending somebody with a warrant issued, unless they are actually caught in progress of committing another crime?"

This appears to be a false dichotomy.

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Silver badge

Ever heard of a cold hit?

Criminals can get pretty police-savvy and drop out of notice...BUT, they can also slip. That's why there are Cold Cases everywhere. You never know when something just pops out at you...like a hit on a car that may have a record hundreds of miles away (so the police there have no prior knowledge of the case). BANG! Suddenly, you have a case again. You can't investigate without information, and sometimes a cold hit is all you have to go on.

As for using someone else's car or going on foot? The former may not be available since that usually involves STEALING the car, which usually puts the car on police records, and foot travel is impractical for long distances.

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Anonymous Coward

@Charles 9

Criminals have friends and family they can borrow cars off and, despite some implications from TV shows, cold cases are very rarely impacted by a lucky hit on a car passing a police check which finds a vehicle linked to a five year old crime with the same owner.

While it is technically possible, its rarity has it along with stopping everyone on Oxford Street and doing a DNA check to see if any are linked to a crime scene.

Foot travel is indeed impractical for very long distances, but there is always public transport, but this takes us away from the problem. The issue is not detecting a criminal in the course of a crime but, as you say, picking up on a cold hit while said criminal is doing a quick run to get their groceries.

The ease with which a criminal can defeat this check kind of undermines the value it offers which is supposedly put against the loss of civil liberty it requires.

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Silver badge

Put it this way.

Is it going to hurt anything for them to check? Like I said, this is a plain-sight issue. If you don't want the cops to be sniffing your plates, just don't go out in public. Because once you're out in PUBLIC, there is no expectation of privacy.

I mean, by "proper procedures", what do you imply? There's only so much police can do with the resources they have, and they're directed to make the most use of them. Detectives, forensic analysts, and so on are specialized positions, outside the realm of the regular uniformed cops who just patrol the streets, who are the kinds of people who run these plate checks. In that regard, it's not much different from a speed trap: doing work while saving fuel.

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Anonymous Coward

@Charles 9

"Is it going to hurt anything for them to check?"

Well, yes and no.

No - in that no one is going to feel any pain following the check.

Yes - in that it is a very simple and efficient method for the state to monitor the movement of its citizens. That plate check has to be recorded and shows that vehicle X was at location Y at a given time. Unless the state is very, very efficient at purging this data (*) all of this adds up to one massive surveillance database of the movement of innocent citizens.

I would argue that there is still some expectation of privacy in public places - we do not yet have to walk round the streets with name badges on and, unless you live in a country which models itself on Cold War East Germany, there is no obligation to provide your identification details to state officials when you are just out for a stroll.

Even without an expectation of privacy (despite our clothes etc), we have an expectation that the state will not monitor our activities and this normally requires a court issued warrant based on sufficient evidence to suspect a crime has occurred. This prevents the state going on "fishing trips" because throughout human history this has led to governmental misuse and control of its citizens undermining the basic tenets of democracy.

Why are you so keen to see this due process overhauled?

*: There are many reasons why this would be unlikely, not least of which is that there has to be a record of when checks are made (innocent or not) to prevent misuse by officers on the ground. There is almost no chance that the government would pass up on the chance to reverse check movement (if a licence plate is later found to be linked to a crime) which adds to the insidious nature of the checks.

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Anonymous Coward

How it works...

Governments protect you from The Enemy.

Courts protect you from the government.

I'm not sure if anyone protects you from the courts.

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Terminator

There are warrants then there are FISA warrants

Question is, "will the necessary warrant be required to be a real warrant or a FISA warrant rubber stamped by a secret court?"

The GPS info would just show being at a particular location, but does not reveal what transpired there. Not evidence of criminal activity.

The drug war does push the limits. Just sayin'.

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Silver badge

Thing is...

...a lot of detective work stems from finding key locations, which you can then investigate and perhaps search with the proper warrants for evidence. It's not just tracking the criminals but also the criminal's haunts, since illicit goods have to eventually end up SOMEWHERE.

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Silver badge

Too late?

Bit confused. The cops applied for a warrant but were too late in fixing the tracker to the car?

That doesn't make sense unless you have to apply the tracker on a specific date. Which is madness as long as the warant has be approved the tracking should be valid.

This isn't a blow for civil rights it's just quibbling over procedure.

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Big Brother

I respectfully disagree

First of all, yes warrants expire. This is a good thing. I'm sure you wouldn't be too happy if the police randomly showed up to search your house a couple years after whatever incident the warrant related to.

OK, a year, a day, big difference. But it's *the law*. If anybody should be expected to stick to th letter of the law, it's the police. Can they ticket you for driving with a license that expired one day ago? Of course they can. Why shouldn't they be held to the same standard?

Also, if I may put on my tinfoil hat for a moment, it occurs to me that it may have been an intentional strategic choice on the part of prosecutors to test this with a "weak" case. Fortunately, at least this time, SCOTUS didn't let the details of the case distract them from the main issue.

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Has the article got it backwards?

"The police obtained a court order for the use of such a device, but were a day late in installing it"

seems fine to me - they installed the device a day after getting the warrant. If on the other hand it was supposed to read "The police obtained a court order for the use of such a device, but were a day late in obtaining it" then that would be wrong

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Silver badge
FAIL

Nope, the warrant said "You can attach it during this time period"

They did it late, thus it was illegal for them to attach it.

That's no different to them having a warrant to search your home in 1994 and actually deciding to do it tomorrow.

Exactly the same concept, different timescale.

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FAIL

OR

"The police obtained a court order for the use of such a device, but were a day late in installing it".

Translation: The police obtained a court order for the use of such a device, but installed it a (day/hour/week?) AFTER THE WARRANT EXPIRED.

There, fixed it for you.

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Article right but doesn't give enough detail and so confuses.

The judgement starts by explaining the background to the case.

"The Government obtained a search warrant permitting it to install a Global-Positioning-System (GPS) tracking device on a vehicle registered to respondent Jones’s wife. The warrant authorized installation in the District of Columbia and within 10 days, but agents installed the device on the 11th day and in Maryland. The Government then tracked the vehicle’s movements for 28 days."

So there were two failures to abide by the terms of the warrant making it invalid.

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Anonymous Coward

some sense

Now let's see about warrantless border searches...

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Unless the suspicion is "terrorism", of course

I am pretty sure that Supreme court decisions such as these no longer have any practical effect on anything that's remotely related to the Patriot Acts and subsequent legislations.

The US courts have become a bit of a hollowed-out charade, in that regard.

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Pint

Gobsmacked... again

How is it the Supremes can get some things so right and others so wrong? Oh well, I guess it's time to raise a pint in support of this one as we wait dreading their next Kelo moment.

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Bronze badge

Not a test case

For those wondering, this was not a test case. Police have been using those devices for quite some time. There are actually many different cases of people finding these things attached to their car and suing the police; this just happens to be he first case to get that far.

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Silver badge

Now wait a cotton picking minute!

The police DID obtain a warrant and they are throwing out the evidence because the police were a day late installing it?

This case should never have gone to SCOTUS in the first place, regardless of the correctness of whether or not the warrant was required.

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Because the prosecutors decided that without warrant, placing GPS tracker on vehicle does not violate the 4th amendment protection. Without a valid warrant, they didn't have the right to do as they did.

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Not a a day late more like 10 days late. It's not like they got the warrant Monday then attached Wednesday and the court tossed . The warrant was for 10 days they waited until the 11th day. Why did it take so long ?

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Joke

See, this and SOPA being knocked down are just more proof that America is a land of jackbooted fascist nazi thugs who want to police the world and - wait, what? Oh. Never mind, then.

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Coat

WOW!

Two groups of judges taking sane decisions IN THE SAME DAY!

Just WOW!

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Now only if they could over turn DOMA, The patriot act and DMC this Yank would be ok. Oh I'd really would be happy if they put copy rights back to 20 years but hell I'd settle four 40 with no extensions allowed .

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