back to article US Supremes to hear warrantless GPS tracking case

The US Supreme Court has agreed to decide if the US Constitution requires police to obtain a search warrant before secretly monitoring location-tracking devices planted on the vehicles of suspects Monday's agreement to decide whether the Fourth Amendment bars warrantless GPS tracking of criminal suspects came at the urging of …


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  1. Notas Badoff

    Errmm, sir, doesn't that mean...

    "... they said citizens have no reasonable expectation to privacy in their movements from one place to another."

    Then so as long as I can gain access to _your_ car without trespassing (say, Walmart parking lot) and attach a GPS device, then I can track _you_ with impunity?

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      Maybe, but...

      ... some citizens are more equal than others.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      sigh ...

      When discussing the US constitution, you have to remember it deals with the *states* actions, not private citizens.

      1. david wilson


        >>"When discussing the US constitution, you have to remember it deals with the *states* actions, not private citizens."

        Indeed, and not only that, but it's only really when their actions have to be disclosed, such as when they want to use the information in a prosecution, that someone might find out they'd been under surveillance.

        Unfortunately for the paranoid souls among us, if you're not really doing anything wrong, you might never find out that 'they' are tracking you.

    3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Spider-Man's been doing it since 1964.

      With his Spider-Tracers. Maybe that's why the villains keep getting out of jail.

      I assume that not only the vehicle location, but also cases where the police followed the suspect and saw them probably doing naughty things, could be tainted evidence. The point there is that if police cut corners then they can lose their whole case, so they'd better not. Assuming that warrantless electronic tracking does turn out to be unconstitutional.

      In other news, you can't get asbestos so easily any more, which is good and bad for The Human Torch. No more villains like this

      but he gets through underwear like you wouldn't believe.

      In other other news, a bizarre tolerance-and-tracking policy on illegal gun purchase and trafficking from Arizona to Mexico, cheerfully named "Fast & Furious", is alleged to have gone severely wrong:

    4. Old Handle
      Thumb Up

      RE: Errmm, sir, doesn't that mean...

      Excellent point. That does appear to be what prosecutors are arguing. I'm not a lawyer, but I'm certain I've heard the same phrase, "expectation to privacy", used in the context of individuals photographing eachother and suchlike. And it makes sense if you think about it. Obviously in practice they can get away with a good bit more, but for the most part police warentless search powers mostly derive from what a normal person can do. For instance they can enter a public place, read your blog, or visually search your car through the windows without a warrant because I can do the same thing.

  2. BobGezelter

    Unaccountable Aggregation is a Serious Issue

    The problem with "warrantless GPS surveillance" is that it combines extreme depth and detail with extremely low cost. In effect, it invalidates an underlying presumption: having an in-depth investigation and accumulation of someone would not be done with abandon because it is too expensive and labor-intensive.

    The aggregation and later use of this information is a privacy hazard.

    I discussed some of these issues far more extensively in "GPS Recorders and Law Enforcement Accountability", the August 31, 2010 entry in my blog, Ruminations. This entry is available at:

  3. Anonymous Coward

    So if they rule it's legal, can I do it too?

    Perhaps by putting a tracker on a Supreme Court judge's vehicle or on local police cars? Or does this "if you've nothing to hide don't be afraid" nonsense only apply to the little people?

  4. SuperTim

    Proof of drivers or passengers.

    This device would also be unable to prove that the accused was driving the car, or even a passenger, so would be circumstantial at best. I am not against surveillance of baddies, but due process is required.

  5. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    A gun which fires GPS at passing cars?

    Really? Wow. How does it make the unit stick? And doesn't it make a hell of a clang as it hits?

    1. Valerion

      Too many movies?

      I'm more interested in exactly how small they've managed to get a GPS chip, how they ensure it can get a good signal, and how long the (presumably tiny) battery would last when doing GPS and some form of transmission.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To Dr Patrick

    They have a clang-free delivery system, and are almost undetectable due to the range of subtle colours that allow them to blend in to the cars own paintwork. Here ya go;

  7. Herby Silver badge

    Scott Mc Nealy quote applies here

    "You have no privacy, get over it!"

    Web search will confirm this quote.

  8. Marvin the Martian

    "3000+ Pages of data": what a useless metric.

    Is a small logo on a page -- say 20kb if nicely scalar'd -- worth 1/20th of a page of data (what it actually occupied), or is it worth 10pages (what its bitcode representation would occupy)? Or is it even 17pages (as typewritten pages had about 1200 character instead of 2000ish for printed ones, and judiciary is conservative so Telex is futuristic to them)?

  9. Dave Bell

    Are Warrants any use?

    There are enough stories that one might wonder if this will make any difference. Cops, it seems, will say anything to get a warrant, and the judges don't seem to care. I've even heard a few stories about the UK: search warrants for porn going to a particular magistrate.

    It's such an easy system to game that you wonder why the Police ever bothered to go to court on this.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      The US is *not* the UK

      In the US, the 4th amendment is taken *very* seriously. People have gone free because the police messed up the due process to invade someones privacy.

      In the UK, it is so rare that a judge will exclude illegally obtained evidence that it's the norm for the police to illegally obtain evidence.

      I leave it to the reader to decide if they want a law that applies to all, or just to non-policemen.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    GPS tagging for hot pursuit

    If plod wishes to fire a GPS tag at a fleeing vehicle in order to enable them backing off and thus making the city streets safer, then that can only be 'A Very Good Thing'.

    It's totally different than monitoring a suspect for an extended period.

    I trust that SCOTUS will be informed enough about the details to distinguish one from the other.

  11. Zippy the Pinhead

    so what we should do

    So if we see a marked or unmarked police car in a parking lot maybe we should attach tracking devices to their vehicles and have it automatically update to a widely available mapping and tracking utility.

  12. druck Silver badge


    Of course in the UK the police can just query the ANPR records to see exactly where you've been. No need for firing GPS devices at cars or court orders.

    1. david wilson


      >>"Of course in the UK the police can just query the ANPR records to see exactly where you've been."

      I guess you must use 'exactly' in a rather different way to most of the population.

      >>"No need for firing GPS devices at cars or court orders."

      No, as long as they are confident in that there's adequate camera coverage of any places of potential interest that your vehicle might go to.

  13. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @Are Warrants any use?

    Yes, they leave a paper trail.

    A warrant to track a journalist who is looking into police corruption to see who he visits would leave a potentially embarrassing public record - just tracking him to see which of your officers might be talking is a lot more discrete.

    1. david wilson


      >>"A warrant to track a journalist who is looking into police corruption to see who he visits would leave a potentially embarrassing public record - just tracking him to see which of your officers might be talking is a lot more discrete."

      I suppose tracking their car would be useful if the cautious investigative journalist was going to drive round in his/her own car to interview key witnesses at home, parking as close as possible to where they live.

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