Sunday, February 11, 2007

Police Can GPS Your Car

Over twenty years ago, Minnesota law enforcement plants a beeper inside a container of chloroform and follows behind monitoring the beeps as a suspect drives to a remote Wisconsin cabin. In 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court says they have no problem with this police trick concluding: “Nothing in the Fourth Amendment prohibited the police from augmenting the sensory faculties bestowed upon them at birth with such enhancement as science and technology afforded them in this case.” Ain't technology wonderful?

UNITED STATES v. KNOTTS, 460 U.S. 276 (1983): The governmental surveillance conducted by means of the beeper in this case amounted principally to the following of an automobile on public streets and highways. We have commented more than once on the diminished expectation of privacy in an automobile. … did monitoring the beeper signals complained of by respondent invade any legitimate expectation of privacy on his part? For the reasons previously stated, we hold it did not. Since it did not, there was neither a "search" nor a "seizure" within the contemplation of the Fourth Amendment.

Just to be clear, the law of the land holds that individuals out in public have no reasonable expectation of Fourth Amendment protection from technologically enhanced government "observation". I doubt anyone is still working on their 1981 build it yourself box kit of a computer. Technology has gotten a whole lot better over the last quarter of a century.

GPS spying on car need no warrant: The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that police can place a GPS tracking unit on a suspect's car without obtaining a search warrant. In US v Garcia (2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 2272), decided Feb. 2, Judge Richard Posner found that such a device was a mere "augmentation" of police officers' natural ability to follow a car.

At least for the moment, the Federal Judiciary says if the police want place a GPS unit on your car then sit still and monitor your travels, they can. No warrant needed as long as surveillance is merely an augmentation of the senses given government agents at birth. The First, Second and Fourth Amendments are all under attack by those in power. Authority simply is more efficient when unrestricted so it is no surprise that do-gooders on all sides of the political spectrum desire to weaken the Constitutional constraints on agents of the government. H/T Jim Zellmer.