Police GPS Surveillance Without a Warrant Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court will hear a case next week that will determine whether police need to obtain a search warrant prior to placing a GPS device on a suspect’s car that would allow them to tract the suspect’s every move. The criminal case that started the controversy was one in which a nightclub operator was convicted of drug charges based on evidence obtained with constant GPS surveillance.

GPS or global positioning system uses satellite transmissions to track the latitude and longitude location of the receiver. The technology has become so advanced, that it can pinpoint the exact location of the receiver not just an approximate area.

Those who oppose the use of warrantless GPS argue that the level of information goes much further than necessary for a criminal investigation. The U.S. Appeals Court Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote that the surveillance “can deduce whether [the suspect] is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups – and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.”

Those who favor warrantless GPS surveillance – such as the law enforcement officers who would use it – say that the GPS could significantly reduce the cost of police manpower necessary to conduct foot patrol investigations. With the economy struggling, they say it would help city budgets. The technology may exist, opponents say, but it does not mean that it should be used for unreasonable search and seizure.

Source: USA Today, “High court case on GPS surveillance could break new ground,” Joan Biskupic, Nov. 3, 2011

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