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Warrantless GPS Tracking Is Legal, Says WI Court

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the it's-one-o'clock-do-you-know-where-your-citizens-are dept.

Transportation 594

PL/SQL Guy writes "A Wisconsin appeals court ruled Thursday that police can attach GPS trackers to cars to secretly track anybody's movements without obtaining search warrants. As the law currently stands, the court said police can mount GPS on cars to track people without violating their constitutional rights — even if the drivers aren't suspects. Officers do not need to get warrants beforehand because GPS tracking does not involve a search or a seizure, wrote Madison Judge Paul Lundsten."

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But... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27897687)

How can warrantless GPS tracking be legal while warrantless car searching is illegal. I am sure that a higher court will reverse this ruling... but it is scary to speculate about what happens if it is not reversed.

Re:But... (4, Interesting)

1729 (581437) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897775)

How can warrantless GPS tracking be legal while warrantless car searching is illegal.

Police don't need a warrant to follow a car, and in my opinion, GPS tracking is more akin to tailing a car than searching through it. I'm not thrilled by this ruling, but it doesn't seem blatantly unconstitutional.

Re:But... (4, Interesting)

st0rmshad0w (412661) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897883)

So when/if I find such a device on my car it belongs to me doesn't it? And I'm not giving it back. And I'm not paying any bill they send me.

Re:But... (5, Funny)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898051)

I've got a better idea: demand to see a warrant to search the car when they come back to get it.

Re:But... (4, Insightful)

theArtificial (613980) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897905)

Isn't this a moot point with mobile phones?

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27897915)

Are you a lawyer? Or at least a law student?

What happens when the car enters private property?

Not to mention, tailing a car doesn't involve physically vandalizing the vehicle, as this does

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27897961)

Not to mention, tailing a car doesn't involve physically vandalizing the vehicle, as this does

No, it doesn't. It can be attached to an underbody cavity of the car with a strong magnet, in the same fashion as those emergency key pods.

Re:But... (1)

ravenshrike (808508) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898107)

And it is illegal to go sticking shit on other people's cars. If I go tossing magnetic bumper stickers on people's cars, the police are not going to be happy with me.

Re:But... (5, Insightful)

laughingcoyote (762272) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897947)

How can warrantless GPS tracking be legal while warrantless car searching is illegal.

Police don't need a warrant to follow a car, and in my opinion, GPS tracking is more akin to tailing a car than searching through it. I'm not thrilled by this ruling, but it doesn't seem blatantly unconstitutional.

I'm not quite sure you're correct there. It's rather ironic that the case here involved someone suspected of stalking. Stalking also can be no more than following someone around and watching them in public places, yet it's something most areas have laws against. The only difference here is that the "stalker" is a police officer. Do you have any doubts that if it were found that the person suspected of "stalking" had covertly put GPS trackers on his victim's cars, they wouldn't nail him in a second? It would seem to me that if this type of behavior would be potentially criminal if done by someone who's not a police officer, it should take a warrant for a police officer to engage in it.

The clear intent of the Fourth Amendment is that the police can't pry into our lives without convincing a judge they have probable cause to believe we're involved in a crime. Even then, they can't just fish, they have to tell the judge exactly what crime, why they believe we're involved in it, and what evidence they believe their search will find.

Just because technology may now allow them to do such prying without physically kicking in a door doesn't mean we should allow surveillance on anyone at any time. As far as I'm concerned, gathering data on a specific person's movements, habits, etc., through surveillance, is a type of search (one is checking into that person's personal life, using methods that would routinely be thought to be invasive even if they are in public, and ironically here most of those methods would trigger the very anti-stalking laws being enforced here), and should be subject to Fourth Amendment protection, including the requirement for a warrant.

Re:But... (3, Insightful)

johnlcallaway (165670) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898059)

It's not illegal for me to follow someone around if I'm on public property.

It's only illegal after they have told me to stop it and show emotional distress or physical threats as a reason.

As the court said, the use would be legal as long as the same information could have been gathered using normal observational techniques. There are plenty of opinions regarding this type of public activity, and there will be plenty more.

The Constitution provides only guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure. There has to be a balance between protecting against fishing expeditions and letting people with a preponderance of evidence get away because of delays in getting warrants. A police officer can walk past a car and look into it and if he see's a dead body, he can open the car and search it. If he sees a what could be drugs, he may have to go get a search warrant. One is a reasonable search, there is a body with pools of blood in the back seat. The other is not, the white powder could be sugar.

Police have always been able to 'tail' suspects. I feel this is no different. If police start attaching GPS devices to cars of people not accused of any crimes 'just to see where he goes' and then arresting them for speeding, I'm sure the courts will toss those out using exactly the same type of finding.

Re:But... (3, Interesting)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898097)

My question: If you find the device on the car, are you allowed to remove it? Or would it be illegal somehow (tampering with investigation of some sort)?

Now suppose they just put these devices on everyone's car, and used them to send remote speeding tickets and other such nonsense...

Re:But... (1)

hydromike2 (1457879) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898151)

i dont believe a cop can follow you 24 hours a day, nor can they follow you onto private property without a warrent

Yay! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27897689)

Yay, free GPS gadgets! Where do I signup?

This is why (5, Insightful)

whong09 (1307849) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897691)

Laws and amendments need to keep up with game changing technological development.

Re:This is why (5, Insightful)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898101)

Laws and amendments need to keep up with game changing technological development.

Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

On Slashdot, you're asking for stronger privacy protections written into the laws, so that the level of privacy and liberty you enjoyed in your childhood remains relatively constant. Citizens using VOIP instead of an analog phone for voice communications? "Sorry, uppity government! We'd like a law that reminds you that you should need a warrant to tap that too."

In Washington, those exact same words mean that the laws should enable the development of a surveillance network so pervasive that it would have given Orwell nightmares. Citizens using VOIP instead of analog phones for voice communications? "Sorry, uppity citizen! Not until we pass a law requiring a built-in backdoor."

We asked for a government that listened to its citizens, and now we've got one. Let's not make that mistake twice by asking for surveillance laws that keep up with game-changing technological breakthroughs.

Perfect! (5, Funny)

Majik Sheff (930627) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897697)

That means I can attach GPS devices to police cars! Never again will I get a ticket while driving through the People's Republic of Wisconsin!

Re:Perfect! (1)

Octogonal Raven (1516671) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897723)

You just made my day. Sadly for me, in Oregon, there are about seventy cars and SUVs I'd need to tag for the route between home and school/work. A minor inconvenience, but if I repurpose the tags they stick on my car...Note to self: Invent GPS-tag detector.

Re:Perfect! (1)

tiananmen tank man (979067) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897803)

All the gps data will prove is the car was in a certain location at a certain time, not who.

Re:Perfect! (5, Insightful)

Krneki (1192201) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897835)

You sir are a genius. Let's start to track down politician cars and update their locations real time to a web site.

And then let's see how long it takes for them to change the law.

Re:Perfect! (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897977)

> And then let's see how long it takes for them to change the law. ...to make it illegal to attach GPS devices to politician's cars (and probably all gov't vehicles).

And make them mandatory for all private cars (but not so commoners can access the info, that would be a separate chargeable line-item on the invoice).

Re:Perfect! (4, Insightful)

Animaether (411575) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898055)

You sir are a genius. Let's start to track down politician cars

I'm note sure if you meant police (as per GP) or politician, but okay... so far so good, seems to be legal, all that. At least as long as you're a cop.
I'm guessing there's laws against private citizens attaching random item X to other person's property Y.

and update their locations real time to a web site.

and there's definitely all sorts of laws against that one.

It's a cute thought-experiment, bound to get you all sorts of populistic "YEA!"-voters, and might even be used to demonstrate the inequality between what some people (such as law enforcement officers, licenses private investigators, licensed bounty hunters, etc.) can do and others (joe schmoe) can't do, but fails to be realistic.

That said - go for it, I'd love to see what happens, the media attention, all that.. I just hope it doesn't end badly for you.

Re:Perfect! (2, Insightful)

Krneki (1192201) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898185)

I know it's idealistic, still you don't have to take all the words so seriously.

I was just pointing out how tracking citizens is ok, while it's not ok to track politicians. Why? Isn't a democracy what gives us the right to control our politicians?

I don't judge the police, since they are just doing the job they are told to do.

Re:Perfect! (5, Insightful)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897967)

No, you can't. There are probably laws out there that prevent you from tampering with police cars. Police officers, in the course of an investigation, are allowed to do things that citizens cannot, such as pulling someone over or patting them down.

The entire problem here is that the state hasn't passed any laws regulating the conduct. The court only ruled that there was no violation of the Fourth Amendment here, which restricts SEARCH and SEIZURE. It would be hard to argue that putting a GPS unit on a car is either a search (you don't see anything in the car, etc.) or a seizure (such as impounding the car). In fact, the decision starts off by inviting the legislature to address the issue. States are allowed to regulate even if there isn't a constitutional bar to an action.

Re:Perfect! (1)

mattwarden (699984) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898027)

You say 'probably', and I agree with you. But has anyone done this analysis? Before we dismiss this, we should look at the decision and determine the implications. At the very least, it would force a clarification of the law, and that clarification could be easier to strike down on constitutional grounds.

Re:Perfect! (4, Insightful)

mattwarden (699984) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898057)

One more thing... is it legal for you to tail a police officer? I guess that would be the deciding factor, because the argument seems to be that a police officer could tail anyone without a warrant, therefore there is no expectation of privacy and using GPS to track the movements is perfectly legal.

Re:Perfect! (1)

pipatron (966506) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898083)

There's of course a lot of things that the police can do, that a normal citizen can't. Just because the police could do it in this case, doesn't mean that anyone can do it. I'm not saying that you can't, just that I wouldn't be so sure before checking...

Re:Perfect! (2, Informative)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898169)

Never fear, technology has caught up for you [navigadget.com] ! Of course, these types of devices tend to be illegal, so probably only police can have them.

True, but ... (5, Interesting)

PPH (736903) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897719)

... it was dark, this guy was attaching a device to the underside of my truck that looked like a bomb. So I shot him.

Re:True, but ... (4, Interesting)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897865)

Much more fun to call the bomb squad.

1 Cop putting $1k GPS tracker on your vehicle, $50.

6 man EOD team response, more like $10k. What are they going to do, NOT respond when you call about a potential bomb on your car?

Then keep the tracker if you can(just remove the batteries).

Otherwise, if you can get an excuse, visit a military base during an exercise where they do a search. Bring a book. It might take a while. I figure 50-50 they end up blowing it up. Also fun - they'll probably terminate the exercise.

Re:True, but ... (5, Insightful)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897885)

6 man EOD team response, more like $10k. What are they going to do, NOT respond when you call about a potential bomb on your car?

No, they'll surround your car with sandbags and water barriers and blow it up.

It pays to think these things through.

Re:True, but ... (2, Funny)

An Onerous Coward (222037) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897963)

Yet another reason to drive junkers.

Re:True, but ... (1)

ravenshrike (808508) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898131)

And when analysis comes back with police issued GPS device, you can sue the police for a new car.

Re:True, but ... (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898139)

6 man EOD team response, more like $10k. What are they going to do, NOT respond when you call about a potential bomb on your car?

No, they'll surround your car with sandbags and water barriers and blow it up.

It pays to think these things through.

Good reason to be driving a Rent-A-Wreck if you're doing something that might attract a GPS-wielding cop.

Re:True, but ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27898009)

...and since you could have walked away from the "bomb," it's unjustifiable homicide. Don't drop the soap.

Re:True, but ... (1)

ravenshrike (808508) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898149)

Depends on the state. Some states allow violence to stop felonies in progress, and attempted murder is certainly a felony.

Louisiana lawmakers salivating (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27897741)

Louisiana will just have to top that. Everyone is after all, a potential terrorist, unemployment benefit seeker, or evolution believer.

the government! (1)

sealfoss (962185) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897743)

its 1984 maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan

Seems reasonable (4, Insightful)

whydna (9312) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897747)

If it's only vehicle location track, how is this different than having the police tail the vehicle or follow it via helicopter, etc. This seems like a lower-cost mechanism for doing the same thing. Is there more to it than that?

Re:Seems reasonable (5, Insightful)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897839)

There's a saying that goes, "Quantity has a quality all its own."

Tracking a vehicle by having a live officer tail it, or using a helicopter, takes significant resources and effort. Using a GPS device makes that job much, much easier. So yes, it saves resources and effort - but what if it makes it too effortless?

Perhaps the logic of why the police don't need a warrant to tail your car is because they can't possibly tail everyone's car all the time, and tailing a car represents a significant investment of effort on their part - which they are unlikely to do without reason. On the other hand, if it's as easy as slapping on a GPS device, the police might be much more likely to track cars without only minimal reason.

Re:Seems reasonable (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897863)

Is there more to it than that?

Sure: You don't have to screw with my property to tail me by car or helicopter.

As an aside, I have to wonder if someone were to attach a GPS tracker to Paul Lundsten's car, would he blow a gasket [abovethelaw.com] about his unreasonable expectation of privacy being violated?

Re:Seems reasonable (5, Insightful)

hibiki_r (649814) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897899)

Probably the fact that, as private citizens, we'd be arrested if we were trying the same strategy on police cars. We are allowed to follow a policeman walking down the street, right?

There's also the fact that the GPS device would be attached to our property, which seems to me like a pretty significant change. A cop could put your home under surveillance, but could they drill holes into your siding to attach the cameras?

Oh well, that's what we get in a country that has no clear provisions for a right to privacy.

Re:Seems reasonable (1)

skine (1524819) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897935)

Yes, but it brings vehicle location track from (suspected) criminals deemed worthy of the costs of location tracking to (potentially) everyone.

Re:Seems reasonable (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898049)

The effort.

Tailing a suspect is not going to be done unless there is a GOOD reason. It costs money, it ties down personnell, and most of all, your suspect might just spot you. It's nothing the police would do without good reason, if for no other reason than for the paperwork. Try to explain to your superior you blew the budget to keep track of a hundred people who "looked suspicious".

Attaching a tracking device to your car is easy, relatively cheap and requires little personnell. It could easily be done dozen, if not a hundred times.

Re:Seems reasonable (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898061)

This seems like a lower-cost mechanism for doing the same thing. Is there more to it than that?

The fact that it is lower cost is precisely the problem. That means that it will get used (and, given the current law-enforcement climate in this country, abused) far more often. You're absolutely correct: legwork is more expensive than slapping a GPS transponder on a car. That's good, because it provides a natural limit to police surveillance ability. Bypassing that limitation would probably be a mistake, because police departments are no different from any other bureaucracy. They'll take the easy way out if they can, and that usually works out to our detriment.

I'm not sure how these trackers work: if it's a simple logging device then presumably the police would need to physically retrieve it in order to recover the stored data. A more sophisticated system would use the cellular network to broadcast updates when specific criteria are met (the vehicle coming to a full stop, for example.) Either way, it's probably a good idea to check the underside of your car now and then, especially you happen to be doing something you'd rather nobody know about.

Worse yet, even if the cops don't eventually charge you with anything, odds are a good lawyer could obtain those records. Bad news if, for example, that happens to be your wife's divorce lawyer trying to find out if you've been cheating. I understand that's already been happening in certain States (mine, for one) where tollway transponder records have been subpoenaed.

Re:Seems reasonable (1)

Eivind (15695) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898071)

That's the difference, and it's a rather huge difference.

Tailing someone costs significant time and resources, this tends to limit it to those cases where it's considered really important.

In contrast, reviewing the gps-logs of a 100 tracked vehicles can be done by a single man, using nothing more than a bog-standard PC.

It costs two orders of magnitude less, is a significant difference -- there's a significant risk that this will lead to the technique being used on the flimsiest of excuses, and for more prolonged periods.

Re:Seems reasonable (1)

10101001 10101001 (732688) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898073)

If it's only searching through their personal belongings, how is this different than having the police tail the person their entire life to track all things ever purchased, received, transported (x-rays), or exchanged in public view? This seems like a lower-cost mechanism for doing the same thing. Is there more to it than that?

PS - Yes, this wouldn't keep track of 100% of what a purchase owns, in part due to lead boxes and the risk of radiation poisoning. But, then a GPS device would allow a person's car to be tracked on private property and it is possible (if difficult) to give police "the slip" in much the same fashion that would lead the same argument for the inspection of personal belongings at whim. Besides, the wording makes clear that one should be "secure in their personal effects", and modifying one's effects seems rather clearly within that scope since one cannot be secure if one's effects can be modified by the police at random.

Re:Seems reasonable (1)

c-reus (852386) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898075)

I wonder if they will press charges against you for destroying police property if you find the device and smash it.

Do we really want the guvmint owning On-Star (1)

FrozenGeek (1219968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897755)

Given that the US government now effectively owns GM (and therefore On-Star), does anyone really want to buy a car that already has GPS tracking built-in?

Re:Do we really want the guvmint owning On-Star (1)

N3Roaster (888781) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897787)

That depends. If my (hypothetical) car gets stolen, can I just call the police and have it promptly returned?

Re:Do we really want the guvmint owning On-Star (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897895)

This option is part of standard security on high end cars. If it gets stolen the police can track it and tell exactly where it is.

IIRC the tracking only gets enabled if the car actually gets stolen (like a silent alarm I guess).

Re:Do we really want the guvmint owning On-Star (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898069)

If it's not yet abroad.

A friend of mine owns a truck company. One of his trucks got stolen and is now in some country ending in -stan. They know exactly where it is. It's even moving from time to time. But the police there can't be bothered to do anything about it, and ours is pretty helpless to get it back from there.

Just knowing where your property is means jack if you can't get it back.

Bill of Rights (4, Insightful)

cjsm (804001) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897759)

This is why we have the Bill of Rights. Because governments will trample on personal freedom at their whim unless controlled by the law or the people.

Re:Bill of Rights (4, Insightful)

Faylone (880739) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897799)

Governments will just trample on personal freedom with their whim as law unless controlled by the people.

Re:Bill of Rights (0, Troll)

LVSlushdat (854194) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897971)

Nice sentiment there, cjsm, but apparently you haven't noticed that DC seems hell-bent on running that precious Bill of Rights thru the shredder.. With Comrade Obama and his communist friends running the show now, it won't be long before our Bill of Rights will look like long strips of shredded paper... And before one of the liberal hordes here suggest that BushCo wasn't any better.. yeah, I kinda agree with ya, even though I voted for him twice, the last time was simply voting AGAINST his opponent...

Re:Bill of Rights (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898023)

Actually, they are not running it through the shredder any more than the last administration did.

I think it was the last administration that really clued into:

-you can do anything, if there is nobody willing to drag you in front of a judge and make you at least stop, and possibly go to jail for what you've done
-Congress is too busy dealing with gay marriage to bother with monitoring what the White House and it's agencies do

A State Court Ruling on a State Law (1)

twrake (168507) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897761)

State Courts sometimes have a different take on the constitution. IANAL, but here in Pennsylvania the State Appeals courts don't consider themselves bound by rulings of the Federal Courts only by the US Supreme Court. After all the State Courts here are older than the US Court...

New law? (5, Interesting)

DownWithMedia1.0 (1547249) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897767)

This sounds like a crazy decision, but the WI judge isnt making any new law here (not that the law is correct.) In fact, police have always been able to do this, because citizens have "no reasonable expectation of privacy" when they are in public. 4th amendment law rarely protects anyone when they are outside in public, with the rare exceptions of when their bags or persons are protected from search and/or seizure (that is, if a search or seizure has occurred.) If you are interested more in this crackpot area of the law, see US v. Katz and its wide ranging progeny, especially US v. Knotts (electronic tracking devices, no reasonable expectation of privacy in your location).

Re:New law? (3, Interesting)

blackest_k (761565) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897873)

The one interesting point in the article was the statement that the guys driveway was public and therefore the police were at liberty to attach the device to his car there.

Why is his driveway public? I would have thought he would have owned the land up to the boundary stated on his property deeds and that would include his driveway, perhaps his driveway needs to be signed private no public access.

Re:New law? (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898099)

The one interesting point in the article was the statement that the guys driveway was public and therefore the police were at liberty to attach the device to his car there.

Why is his driveway public? I would have thought he would have owned the land up to the boundary stated on his property deeds and that would include his driveway, perhaps his driveway needs to be signed private no public access.

Well, I do know that where I used to live, the cops would come right up on your driveway and ticket your car. I got nailed that way once because my village sticker had expired, and as it happened my car was in the garage although the garage door was open. None of the surrounding towns would do that.

Glad I don't live there anymore.

Re:New law? (1)

Totenglocke (1291680) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897907)

Except that this isn't like the police seeing you do something suspicious in public and following you to see if you do anything else suspicious. This is more akin to fixing a GPS tag to an animal to track everything it does at every moment (I said akin, not the same as).

Re:New law? (2, Insightful)

An Onerous Coward (222037) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897931)

Now I really want to know: if you're not suspected of a crime, aren't behaving suspiciously, and aren't meaningfully related to some ongoing investigation, is it still okay for someone in law enforcement to just follow you around? If true, that's pretty disturbing.

Re:New law? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27897991)

You can only stretch Us v. Knotts and the Katz progeny so far though before they run headlong into protected rights though. Many STATES have stronger constitutional rights than is guaranteed by the US Constitution. Just offhand, I can think of a few good arguments, such as impinging on the right to intrastate travel. (One case I remember reading a few years ago -- Ohio, I think -- concluded that the state couldn't prevent a man from driving, because of his remote domicile, the distance to his workplace, and the unavailability of economically viable alternate transportation. Bear in mind, driving is typically considered a privilege that a state can revoke at will. I thi

Re:New law? (1)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898005)

Katz and its progeny are limited to instances where the target is being followed in public areas through electronic means. Defendants claim that this doesn't apply because they parked in a private parking lot but any cop on a stakeout who trailed the suspect there would know that the car was parked in there. You don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your location when you walk around and let the public at large see where you are. If your neighbors can see you, so can the cops. And if the cops could have just followed you around, they can lawfully stick a GPS unit on you to do the same thing.

Re:New law? (1)

kilodelta (843627) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898189)

But your vehicle is private property. Is it that the inside of the vehicle only is yours?

An interesting question (4, Insightful)

SEE (7681) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897817)

On the one hand, you've got the theory that this is analogous to assigning an officer to watch and tail a suspect's car, which is perfectly legal without a warrant.

On the other hand, you have, for example, things like Kyllo v. United States, where using thermal imaging equipment was treated as a search even though ordinary visual observation from off the property is not.

I suspect a higher court would rule that GPS devices are more common in civilian use than thermal imaging, and that when driving your car in public you have no reasonable expectation that your movement will be unobserved, and so rule that this court got it right, there is no Fourth Amendment violation.

Re:An interesting question (4, Insightful)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897917)

I don't think it makes any sense. The police can't just install a camera on my lawn to watch the house. They should not be able install something on my car either. Its not the same as a tail operation at all. All I can say is that the police have no reasonable expectation of getting their GPS back since they are obviously disposing of it by leaving in on my property.

Re:An interesting question (3, Insightful)

SEE (7681) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897989)

Yeah, but the reason they can't put a camera on your lawn isn't the Fourth Amendment. They can put the camera on public property, or on a neighbor's property with their permission, to observe your property. While putting the GPS on your car might be illegal for other reasons, it isn't obvious that it's a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Re:An interesting question (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898147)

All I can say is that the police have no reasonable expectation of getting their GPS back since they are obviously disposing of it by leaving in on my property.

What do they care about the cost of the GPS? It's your tax dollars at work. And that's a pittance to the salary you're paying them to stalk you.

Re:An interesting question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27897939)

I suspect a higher court would rule that GPS devices are more common in civilian use than thermal imaging, and that when driving your car in public you have no reasonable expectation that your movement will be unobserved, and so rule that this court got it right, there is no Fourth Amendment violation.

While you have no reasonable expectation that your movement will be observed, it is much cheaper and more effective to stick a GPS device to your car and record your movements than it is to designate someone to follow you around unnoticed. Thus the potential for abuse is much greater.

Even if GPS surveillance probably does not violate the Fourth Amendment (literally), one should remember that this kind of surveillance was not possible when the Fourth Amendment was written. It should be questioned whether the spirit (though not the letter) of the Fourth Amendment goes against this kind of maneuvers. Such a reflection must take place if we want laws to keep up with the times.

Re:An interesting question (1)

SEE (7681) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898013)

Oh, certainly. As in cases like Kyllo, the court might hold that the technology is intrusive enough that it is a Fourth Amendment violation even if it otherwise seems to be more analogous to permitted methods than prohibited ones. But Kyllo involved the expectation of privacy much more directly, and was only decided in favor of Kyllo by a 5-4 ruling . . so it seems likely the Court will favor the state in this one.

Re:An interesting question (1)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898103)

Search and seizure law is all about expectations of privacy. You do not have a constitutional protection against search and seizure if you don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy. For instance, the police can search your trash without a warrant because you have no privacy interest in debris you tossed onto the street for disposal. A GPS unit only enhances what police could do with old fashioned elbow grease. A thermal imager that can see through walls to detect marijuana plants being grown indoors adds superpowers that cops would not normally have. Therefore, the imager is an unreasonable search because you have an expectation of privacy on your actions in your house.

Cool (3, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897821)

if Police can do it without it being a suspect OR having a warrant, then we, the citizens, should have that same right. That means that we can now track judges to find their homes, what schools their kids go to, where member of the opposing political parties are heading off to (what do you mean that is a no-tel hotel; and hookers were there, along with representatives from Exon??? Really). Want to know where the chief of police or head of your school lives? Real easy now that nobody has privacy.

Re:Cool (1)

mattwarden (699984) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898091)

Maybe, maybe not. Is it legal for you to tail a police officer? If so, then I guess you are right, and we could do the same with GPS data. If not, then the argument doesn't hold. (I don't know the answer, and google wasn't any help.)

Re:Cool (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898123)

if Police can do it without it being a suspect OR having a warrant, then we, the citizens, should have that same right. That means that we can now track judges to find their homes, what schools their kids go to, where member of the opposing political parties are heading off to (what do you mean that is a no-tel hotel; and hookers were there, along with representatives from Exon??? Really). Want to know where the chief of police or head of your school lives? Real easy now that nobody has privacy.

Yeah, but if that starts getting popular they'll immediately rule that GPS devices are illegal for private citizens to use for tracking civil servants or public figures. I mean, it's not like this is a fair fight, exactly.

Wow, Ironic ... (1)

tiananmen tank man (979067) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897841)

The guy is charged with stalking and is then stalked by the police with gps ... wow.

Re:Wow, Ironic ... (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898179)

The guy is charged with stalking and is then stalked by the police with gps ... wow.

Well, like most other such "crimes", they're perfectly legal for the police to commit. Heck, in my State, if the police falsely arrest you they're completely immune from any legal consequences. A lawyer friend of mine said, "Yeah, the law sucks, but there it is." Apparently our Legislature believes that the police can't do their jobs unless they're unaccountable.

Remove it and ship it off (1)

dargaud (518470) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897843)

So, is there a way to detect GPS antennas (maybe with some kind of frequency resonator ?) so you can remote it and stick it on the first 18-wheeler you find ?

Re:Remove it and ship it off (1)

Totenglocke (1291680) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897927)

Good idea, but I'll do you one better -- take it off and ship it to China.

Re:Remove it and ship it off (2, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898093)

I almost would have said "attach it to a police car", but then... it might look suspicious if you happen to be on every friggin' crime scene in the city.

Re:Remove it and ship it off (1)

VampireByte (447578) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898039)

Just put it in the garbage can at the curb, it'll go in a garbage truck and get driven around town for a while before heading to the county dump.

Not a meaningfull decision (5, Interesting)

alljake (1471215) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897845)

As a lawyer in Wisconsin, I can tell you that this decision is pretty meaningless. I have had several cases go to the court of appeals (this court) and you almost always lose there on novel issues like this one. Til the WI supreme court rules takes this and rules or denies further appeal, this is not news. For some reason our CoA's don't like making big splashes, they will almost always just side with the state.

What makes this different than being tailed... (1)

barfy (256323) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897847)

It's the cost of acquisition of information. With things like onstar, this cost can drop to zero, and can be utilized for simple information gathering, fishing expeditions, and post facto inquisition.

This will be utilized for intimidation, politics, blackmail, and even criminal prosecution just to keep the populous satisfied. But information is power, and information can be twisted, presented in strange ways, and even lied about and manufactured.

Yellow Cake anyone?

Courts have previously ruled (2, Interesting)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897853)

that privacy must be considered as well as just rights against search and seizure. My state has ruled exactly the opposite: that a warrant is necessary in order to track someone with GPS.

The WI decision contradicts decisions in a number of other states. I doubt it will stand.

Wait, so... (2, Interesting)

rpillala (583965) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897859)

Does this mean I can do it? Stalking jokes aside, what's the difference between me attaching a GPS to someone's car and me following them around? Surely it's legal for me to tail a car. This just makes it simpler for me to track the whereabouts of multiple cars at once.

Not everyone agrees (4, Insightful)

earlymon (1116185) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897877)

From August 14, 2008 - http://www.insidetech.com/news/articles/2833-police-planting-gps-trackers-on-cars-without-warrants [insidetech.com]

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.

First - way to go, State of Washington.

Next, it's not cut and dried, legally. From TFA:

Sveum, 41, argued the tracking violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. He argued the device followed him into areas out of public view, such as his garage.

The court disagreed. The tracking did not violate constitutional protections because the device only gave police information that could have been obtained through visual surveillance, Lundsten wrote.

Even though the device followed Sveum's car to private places, an officer tracking Sveum could have seen when his car entered or exited a garage, Lundsten reasoned. Attaching the device was not a violation, he wrote, because Sveum's driveway is a public place.

"We discern no privacy interest protected by the Fourth Amendment that is invaded when police attach a device to the outside of a vehicle, as long as the information obtained is the same as could be gained by the use of other techniques that do not require a warrant," he wrote.

Although police obtained a warrant in this case, it wasn't needed, he added.

Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said using GPS to track someone's car goes beyond observing them in public and should require a warrant.

"The idea that you can go and attach anything you want to somebody else's property without any court supervision, that's wrong," he said. "Without a warrant, they can do this on anybody they want."

So, what the real issue? Surveillance? Like it or not, that's legal. A cop can follow you all day long, so far as I know, as long as it doesn't amount to what a judge would call harassment. (That said, a judge's threshold and mine are probably quite different.)

Or is the real issue as the ACLU says, the attachment of a (police) device to property without court supervision?

I'm going with the ACLU on this one. Bond used a homer(*) 45 years ago in Goldfinger, and that was cool - or so we thought, because the of the target. But when I think now that the pursuer had a license to kill - I wonder if the future shouldn't be protected very, very carefully.

(* - Yep, they called it a homer in the movie. Nonetheless, cue Simpsons' jokes in ...3...2...)

what i would do (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897897)

destroy it with a hammer or go to a crowded shopping mall and park then remove the device and attach it to someone else's car, track that! mofo.

They can do the same thing with your cell. (1)

yourassOA (1546173) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897903)

But then they have to get cooperation from the phone company and that would leave a paper trail. I can see this being abused/ used for personal reasons by police etc.
Now if I were to find a GPS unit attached to my vehicle what would happen if I were to remove/destroy it?

Evidentiary value (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27897913)

And just what evidentiary value does the GPS tracking record have, anyway? Who's to say the suspect (or someone else with access to the vehicle in a "public place" like a driveway) didn't transfer the unit to another vehicle entirely? Or take it into a lab and falsify the records inside it? With no chain of custody, I would be inclined to distrust such evidence.

Re:Evidentiary value (2, Insightful)

AGMW (594303) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898035)

Better yet ... if you ARE up to no good and you spot the GPS device ... remove it from your car and leave it on the drive ... drive off to commit whatever heinous crime you're being tracked for (I dunno ... copy an MP3 or something?), drive home and bung the GPS back on yer motor!

Me officer? Hell no. I've not driven anywhere all day, and your GPS logs PROVE IT!

Sweet as!

Without continual observation the results are potentially useless!

but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27897937)

I can't stick a piece of gum on someone's car. Why can the police stick someone on someone's car? There's got to be some legal precedent about interfering with someone's property that has a fancy legal name? Can they just ignore *that*?

What if I find the device? (1, Interesting)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898015)

I know my car. And yes, I'm paranoid enough to search it from time to time.

Now let's assume I find that baby. I obviously don't know who it belongs to (I doubt the police would inform me). It's on my car, so my assumption would have to be that it's mine. I dismantle it, because I love poking at shiny tech stuff. Am I liable for the destruction?

Re:What if I find the device? ebay (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27898143)

Put it up on ebay. If anybody asks you say you found it in your driveway.

Re:What if I find the device? (1)

oljanx (1318801) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898155)

Don't dismantle it, attach it to your neighbor's car. Of course then you might be charged for interfering with an investigation.

Tech solution (1)

Gnaythan1 (214245) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898021)

Betcha some one can make a false gps pinger, and attach it to his own car so now the gps unit recieves and reports very innacurate info... he could even test it with his own reciever to make sure it is working. as long as it isn't affecting anyone elses stuff it wouldn't be illegal.

Re:Tech solution (1)

AGMW (594303) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898067)

Indeed, like a lot of security theatre (ID cards, etc) it is only the law abiding who will be inconvenienced by it. Once these become common place the bad guys will be able to spot them and/or stop them working (accurately) so they become basically useless apart from tracking Joe Schmo going off to bang someone else's wife.

I got an interesting view point to ask (1)

arbiter1 (1204146) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898077)

If you are a crook that does illegal things in that state wouldn't most them carry a small gps scrambler in their car's to prevent such tactic's from happening to them? if so then what is the point of this ruling then?

Better legal strategy: claim the tracker is a gift (2, Interesting)

etphonehome8706 (1228606) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898095)

What the defense lawyers should have argued is that by affixing the GPS device to the defendant's car without his knowledge or request, the GPS device was a gift to the defendant. When they did so, they gave up the right to claim the device as their own property, and in fact gave it to the defendant. There is precedent [slashdot.org] to back up this argument.

When the police took the tracker back, the defense should have claimed that was a seizure of the defendant's property, and should have required service of a warrant. Hey, it worked for music CDs. Might as well try it for GPS trackers.

Elected official? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27898105)

Is Judge Paul Lundsten an elected or an appointed official?

If he is an elected official, what can we do about getting the citizens, who elected him, to not elect him again?

Guys, it's okay... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27898141)

just go to Milwaukee, pick a street (or the freeway for that matter) and hit a pothole. That GPS unit you're so worried about will be scraped right off.

Slippery slope, where's my jammer? (3, Insightful)

schwit1 (797399) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898181)

What's the next step? All vehicles will be required to have a government controlled GPS device.
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