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Thursday, February 2, 2012

GPS Tracking Needs Warrant In Real Life

I know I don’t usually talk about criminal procedure here in The Write Report. My forte is civil law, not criminal. But a recent Supreme Court case put the kibosh on a very common plot device, so I wanted to alert you to it.

You see it all the time on TV. The cops put a tracking device under the fender of the suspect’s car. Let’s follow him from a safe distance, or let’s watch where he goes, they say. Well, unless they had a warrant, that tracking information is illegal, and everything they got from it will likely be excluded.

The police put a GPS device on a suspected drug dealer’s Jeep and monitored him for 28 days. The Court said this violated his 4th Amendment rights. “We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search,’ ” said Justice Scalia in the opinion. Other justices were concerned about the right to privacy, but the Court hasn’t yet officially weighed in on the privacy issue regarding this kind high-tech surveillance.

It’s good to know that books haven’t lost their relevance. George Orwell’s 1984 was referenced in oral arguments in the case six times.

For at least this type of surveillance, the Court says it’s an illegal search. We’ll have to wait for another day to see how far the police can go before it’s an invasion of our privacy.

So, if you’re writing about cops who attach a GPS to a car, better make sure they have their warrant.

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