A long time in the making, the Federal Appeals Court has finally taken a concrete stance on the extent to which law enforcement can use GPS tracking as a tool in covert investigations. As a result of the ruling that was handed down, authorities must now obtain a warrant before deploying electronic devices to track suspects.
For some time now, the Supreme Court had left questions unanswered regarding the legality of warrant-less GPS tracking of suspects in covert investigations by law enforcement. There have been a multitude of recent cases, most having to do with narcotics trafficking, where a tracking device was deployed to help gather crucial evidence. The crux of the issue is the Fourth Amendment and a persons’ rights against illegal search and seizure.
A new case has come to light that led to the appeals court ruling, and to clarity on the matter. The court ruled that evidence gathered as a result of deploying the GPS tracking device without a proper warrant was inadmissible, and subsequently overturned the convictions of 3 brothers suspected in a series of store thefts.
Prior to the case, law enforcement had maintained that the use of the GPS tracking device was covered under the same “probable cause” rules as physically searching a vehicle. The court disagreed. The courts’ position is that, unlike a physical search, the evidence gathered by an electronic traffic device is obtained over a much longer period of time, and so should require a warrant. This ruling promises to create a significant ripple effect throughout the law enforcement community.
We have more great articles in our archives on GPS technology. “GPS Jammer Gets NJ Man Jammed Up, Earns $32K Fine and Gets Fired.”