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NY Court Says Police Can't Track Suspect With GPS 414

Posted by kdawson
from the when-a-cop-slaps-you-on-the-back-check-your-back dept.
SoundGuyNoise sends in a story that brings into relief just how unsettled is the question of whether police can use GPS to track suspects without a warrant. Just a couple of days ago a Wisconsin appeals court ruled that such tracking is OK; and today an appeals court in New York reached the opposite conclusion. "It was wrong for a police investigator to slap a GPS tracking device under a defendant's van to track his movements, the state's top court ruled today. A sharply divided NY Court of Appeals, in a 4-3 decision, reversed the burglary conviction of defendant Scott Weaver, 41, of Watervliet. Four years ago, State Police tracked Weaver over 65 days in connection with the burglary investigation."
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NY Court Says Police Can't Track Suspect With GPS

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  • by ergo98 (9391) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @01:53PM (#27924855) Homepage Journal

    The judgment was that they couldn't track a person without a warrant. I presume that if they had convinced a judge of probable cause before they lojacked the suspect, they would have been in the clear.

    • by Teese (89081) <beezel@gmail.cRASPom minus berry> on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @01:55PM (#27924905)
      Which is weird, because in the Wisconsin case, the officers had a warrant. The judges there said it wasn't needed!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by maxume (22995)

        It isn't that strange, state laws are anything but uniform.

        • by cayenne8 (626475) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @03:04PM (#27925945) Homepage Journal
          "It isn't that strange, state laws are anything but uniform."

          Nothing strange about it at all!! That's the way things are (supposed) to be set up. Rather than an all knowing all powerful federal govt. telling you what to do...the most power to make laws should be at the state and then local level. This is done in that state and local are more apt to serve their populations needs and wishes better. People living in NYC, and Tucson, AZ have vastly different needs and wishes due to climate, land mass, and culture of the people. You are a citizen of your state first, and then a citizen of the United States...

          It is great that way, in that if you don't like the laws and regulations where you live, you are free to move to a state that is more in line with your way of thinking. Wanna have medicinal pot easily? Move to CA. Things like that.

          Hehehe...if you think these laws are wide in variance....just look at liquor laws not only from state to state, but, from county to county (or parish to parish in LA)....those are the most fscked up things I've ever seen when traveling.

          But, what you observed isn't a bad thing or strange thing. The US was set up that way!!!

      • by alen (225700) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @02:30PM (#27925401)

        you need a warrant to track a person's private movements. I think in Wisconsin it was argued that that since the suspect visited public places then the warrant and the GPS tracking wasn't legal. but the police physically followed him as well and this is why it withstood appeal.

    • by Azghoul (25786) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @02:32PM (#27925423) Homepage

      Which is strange to me: They tracked one guy for 65 days but didn't think they had probable cause enough to get a warrant to do so?

      • by davester666 (731373) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @03:11PM (#27926057) Journal

        Well, who knows how many people they slapped these GPS trackers on. This article just refers to the one guy charged. It wouldn't surprise me if they slapped them on the vehicles of a bunch of "known offenders", and then charged the one whose vehicle movements roughly lined up with some crimes.

        It's the same as if the police searched all their homes without a warrant, and just arrested the guy where they found the stuff. The police wouldn't tell the judge they did mass searches, just that they did this one search without a warrant.

        Except the 50 other people may not know their vehicles had/has a GPS attached to it (whereas they probably would know if the police searched their house).

  • by ewanm89 (1052822)
    I want to know whether it would be wrong if they steal my phone which has GPS tracking set up to be available to me?
    • by C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @02:15PM (#27925155) Journal

      if someone steals your phone, it's still yours. even if it's out of your reach, you still have authority over it, so the police would be legally allowed to track it if you consent to it. any lawyer or paralegal here to correct me if i'm wrong ?

      I remember some years ago a story about a stolen mac that had a remote management software that phoned home everytime the notebook connected to the internet. as soon as the thieve dialed up (it was still on the dial-up age), the owner logged in to his mac and used the iSight camera to snap a picture of the individual. this was not considered an invasion because the mac was his to begin with. IIRC, the police used the picture to identify and arrest the thieve. the mac was located and returned.

    • Yes, it's called LoJack.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @01:55PM (#27924907)

    Can't they just ask for a warrant, and not have to worry whether the case is going to be thrown out?

    If it's worth the trouble to track the guy for 65 days, surely it's worth the trouble to get a warrant.

  • Since there is apparently no legal issue with car companies issuing GPS-enabled remote engine locks, the police should simply start renting cars to their suspects. Problem solved!
  • Legal Basis? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Wowlapalooza (1339989)
    I'd like to see the full text of the opinion. The small extracts I've seen so far basically amount to "I don't like giving the police such power", which, if it were the only legal basis of the opinion, would be the worst kind of legislating-from-the-bench, and not likely to survive an appeal. Surely in 20 pages of opinion, there was an actual legal basis given for their decision. One can hope?
    • I'd like to see the full text of the opinion.

      Amen. There's not enough in the summary to understand WHY the court ruled the way it did.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Thinboy00 (1190815)

      Probably something about search and seizure, and the ninth and tenth amendments (the anti-elastic clauses).

  • Close, but no cigar (Score:5, Informative)

    by smooth wombat (796938) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @02:00PM (#27924961) Homepage Journal

    When one reads the linked article, the court indicated it was because no warrant was obtained that the tracking via GPS was invalid, not the tracking in and of itself.

    Had the police done their job and obtained a warrant to plant a device on the persons car, there wouldn't have been a problem. They obviously had reasonable suspicion to suspect he was the burglar because they knew enough to single him out.

    This isn't about Big Brother watching you, this is about sloppy police work (though it does tie in nicely with the previous article from Wisconsin).

    • by dontmakemethink (1186169) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @03:20PM (#27926239)

      This is very much about big brother watching you. The police work wasn't sloppy, they surely knew they dd not have sufficient evidence to obtain a warrant, so they pretended to assume it wasn't necessary.

      They could have, and should have, put a tail on him the old fashioned way. That way someone can actually account for the suspect's whereabouts and conduct. A GPS tracker indicates a lot more than just a suspect's car's position, and goes where conventional surveillance cannot. If a form of tracking is allowed, then the information gathered by it is admissible in court.

      That means if a murder suspect parks in front of a gun shop, the jury gets to hear about it, even if the suspect gets a slice of pizza next door. With nobody there to bear witness, the information gathered cannot be interpreted accurately and only serves to prejudice the suspect and/or waste the court's time deciding what to make of it.

  • Fourth Amendment (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DarrenBaker (322210) <darren@fCOLAlim.net minus caffeine> on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @02:01PM (#27924981) Homepage

    My understanding here is that monitoring without a warrant would constitute (no pun intended) a breach of the 'unreasonable search and seizure' part of the US constitution. If a cop can't investigate someone on the sole basis of profiling (racial or otherwise), then he shouldn't be allowed to GPS tag them without a warrant either. Seems simple to me... No?

    • by WCMI92 (592436)

      My understanding here is that monitoring without a warrant would constitute (no pun intended) a breach of the 'unreasonable search and seizure' part of the US constitution. If a cop can't investigate someone on the sole basis of profiling (racial or otherwise), then he shouldn't be allowed to GPS tag them without a warrant either. Seems simple to me... No?

      This reeks of laziness on the part of law enforcement to me.

      If the man was a suspect, they could have had plainclothes officers follow his vehicle. This would not have required a warrant nor violated his rights, so long as the officers didn't violate his person or property without a warrant.

      Instead they slapped a GPS on his vehicle and allowed it to save them the time, labor, and expense of doing so.

      That's where they crossed the line. Had they done good police work (ie: followed him instead of taking the

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheNinjaroach (878876)

        Instead they slapped a GPS on his vehicle and allowed it to save them the time, labor, and expense of doing so.

        They are saving time and money with a highly accurate technology. As a tax payer, I think this approach sounds great. As a citizen, I think this approach should always require a warrant.

        • by WCMI92 (592436)

          They are saving time and money with a highly accurate technology. As a tax payer, I think this approach sounds great. As a citizen, I think this approach should always require a warrant.

          I completely agree. The police can even obtain wiretaps and permission to place a bug if they have a warrant to do so. A GPS tracker is nothing more than another form of that, so it should be assumed by any reasonable person that if bugs and wiretaps require a warrant, so does a GPS tracker.

          Instead these guys did it willfully without one, which in my mind makes them bad cops and the prosecutors who intentionally used this evidence to get a conviction criminals themselves.

          Sadly, not all police are "Sergean

    • I'm not sure this would necessarily qualify as "unreasonable search and seizure". That was a protection designed to keep officials from searching your person (or your property) and pocketing your property without just cause. Would the court have ruled differently if the car were monitored by a series of surveillance cameras (assuming enough were in place to track the movements)?

      I'm guessing that the judges involved thought about the places they go, and decided that they wouldn't want anyone knowing where
  • by Smivs (1197859) <smivs@smivsonline.co.uk> on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @02:06PM (#27925029) Homepage Journal

    Dozens of Wisconsin criminals have been seen driving in the general direction of New York.

  • by bperkins (12056) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @02:08PM (#27925045) Homepage Journal

    I understand the argument that GPS tracking is not significantly more intrusive than tailing.

    But I wonder how police officers would react if GPS devices were surreptitiously placed on their cruisers.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by d3ac0n (715594)

      But I wonder how police officers would react if GPS devices were surreptitiously placed on their cruisers.

      I was under the impression that police cruisers in most (if not all) locales in the US have been equipped with GPS tracking for many years now. I know for a fact that the NY State trooper vehicles have them (I have an in-law who's a trooper) and I think my local township does too. From what my in-law told me, the troopers union requested the GPS devices for officer safety reasons.

    • I wonder how those Wisconsin judges would react if someone planted a GPS device on one their cars and then published their locations on the web...
  • by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @02:12PM (#27925115) Homepage

    There is not necessarily any conflict. That which is forbidden by the constitution and/or statutes of one state may be permitted in another. Whether or not this is permitted by the US Constitution must be decided by a Federal court.

    • by WCMI92 (592436)

      There is not necessarily any conflict. That which is forbidden by the constitution and/or statutes of one state may be permitted in another. Whether or not this is permitted by the US Constitution must be decided by a Federal court.

      State constitutions cannot conflict with the Federal one with respects to rights granted, as in the Bill of Rights, and in this case, the requirement that a warrant be obtained.

      States can grant you MORE rights than the Federal Constitution, but they may not restrict you more than it does.

      • by pi_rules (123171)

        Right, but the state's supreme court doesn't get to decide what federal law says. That's up to a federal court.

        This crap just takes time to shake out.

    • That which is forbidden by the constitution and/or statutes of one state may be permitted in another. Whether or not this is permitted by the US Constitution must be decided by a Federal court.

      Sort of.

      Every state is beholden to the civil protections of the US Constitution -- no state may allow transgression of rights enumerated there. So there are commonalities to the state laws, and definitely for the rights of people in the states. Think of the US Constitution as defining the baseline for what people's

  • by sirwired (27582) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @02:25PM (#27925323)

    If following somebody in an unmarked car without a warrant is legal (and it is), I'm not sure why an electronic device that accomplishes the same thing through satellite tracking would not be.

    SirWired

    • by tilandal (1004811) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @02:32PM (#27925429)

      If having a plant listen to a phone conversation is legal (and it is), I'm not sure why doing the same thing through a switch-box would not be.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      The police officer following you does not damage your private property, aka your car. He also does not follow you onto your private property, your land. In addition this reduces the burden on the police involved in tracking suspects to the point were without the need for a warrant they could just place a tracking device on every car in their jurisdiction.

  • by Anonymous Cowpat (788193) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @02:46PM (#27925635) Journal

    Say the police in state A* attach a GPS tracker to a car sans warrant, then say that the owner of that car drives to a different state, B**; would evidence collected whilst the vehicle was in State B count? Would the officers in State A be exposing themselves to actual liability (as opposed to the evidence simply being thrown out) in State B?

    *Wisconsin
    **New York

  • Welcome to the USA. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Molochi (555357) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @03:00PM (#27925883)

    What police can or can't do to a vehicle depends on what state you are in. Big surprise.

  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <.gro.todhsals. .ta. .deteled.> on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @03:16PM (#27926157)

    The summary suggests, that there would be only one global way that this decision can go. While in reality, tracking a suspect with GPS can, and most likely is, ok in some cases. While in others it is not. And in some, it is even dependent on other factors.

  • Does it matter? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @03:37PM (#27926557)

    There are instances in which the police may wish to track someone in order to gather intelligence. This information will never appear as evidence in court. So, they'll go on planting GPS units wherever they want. They'll just have to manufacture some probable cause to make a stop.

    This sort of thing has been done for ages. The cops know who the 'bad' people are. And they've got a pretty good feel for when they're up to no good. So, where something like running a stop sign or failure to signal a lane change are overlooked for the general public, the usual suspects will get pulled over, patted down and have their vehicle tossed*. GPS technology just allows them to collect intelligence from the comfort of a donut shop instead of actually patrolling a neighborhood.

    *A friend of mine in the local PD refers to this as charging someone with "Mopery with intent to gawk".

  • Questions (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Locke2005 (849178) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @03:58PM (#27926945)
    1) If my car is always garaged, don't the police have to break and enter to install a GPS tracker?
    2) How do I detect whether or not a GPS receiver has been attached to my car?
    3) If this box was there for 2 months, it must be drawing power from the car battery. Doesn't that make it a lot easier to detect? Doesn't that also mean that it is probably only working when the car ignition is on?
    4) GPS signals from satellites are low-power, therefore they must be easy to jam. Isn't there a potential market for devices that do just that? You probably only need to jam the signal when the ignition is on. Better yet, transmit false GPS data and really mess with the cops' minds.
  • by jeko (179919) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @06:15PM (#27929177)

    I can't tell you how overjoyed I am to hear that one of our courts has remembered there are limits to police power.

    Unfortunately, the men with the uniforms and guns aren't worrying about such trivia. Have you spoken to any police officers lately? If you don't happen to work in municipal systems or security like I do, hop over to the forums at "officer.com" for an eye-opening read.

    The current meme running among police officers is "wolves, sheepdogs and sheeple." That is, the "bad guys" are wolves, cops are sheepdogs, and the civilians are sheep. Sheep are worthless, stupid and deserve to get skinned.

    The last member of a SWAT team I met told me a joke. He stomped on the ground twice and spit toward his foot. "You know what that is?" he asked. I shook my head "no." He grinned and said "cop cpr." When I asked if that was the procedure for criminals or victims, he called me a liberal fraker.

    Another cop was telling me a story, well bragging really, and a footnote to the story was that a teenage girl was injured. When I asked him why that happened, he responded in fairly rough terms that officer safety took priority over all other considerations. I told him that during my time on base, we were always told that armed men in uniform were supposed to put themselves in harm's way to protect the civilians. Again, in rather rude terms, the officer responded that he didn't care how many civilians were killed, but that he was absolutely not going to expose himself or his fellow officers to real danger.

    The court decisions are wonderful, but until we fix the broken traditions and discipline within our nation's police departments, it's an academic exercise at best.

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain

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