9/28/2011Constitutional Rights Group Challenges Warrantless GPS Tracking
The Constitution Project issues statement calling for change in law to outlaw GPS tracking without a warrant.
A powerful group of political figures issued a report last week condemning law enforcement's unchecked use of high-tech surveillance system. The Constitution Project is troubled in particular by the ease with which a person's movements can be tracked 24 hours a day. The conservative-leaning group insisted on the need to bring the law back in line with fundamental constitutional principles.
"Private sector technologies that enable constant monitoring of individuals are moving inexorably forward, and as they are developed, law enforcement agencies inevitably seek to use these new surveillance tools," the report stated. "These include not only GPS devices and cell phones, but also laptop and notebook computers, location based services like OnStar, and technologies yet to be developed. Use of these surveillance devices presents serious challenges in terms of compliance with Fourth Amendment protections. While these technologies enhance the ability of law enforcement agents to accomplish their important work, it is also critical that we carry forward Fourth Amendment safeguards into the Digital Age."
The statement was put together by a committee that included David Keene, current president of the National Rifle Association; former FBI Director William S. Sessions; Asa Hutchinson, former Republican congressman from Arkansas and former undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security; Mickey Edwards, former Republican congressman from Oklahoma; and former US Court of Appeals Judge Patricia Wald.
The issue of vehicle tracking will heat up in November as the US Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case US v. Jones, which will likely settle the existing disagreement among appellate courts over the legality of secretly attaching GPS devices to automobiles without a warrant. The Constitution Project is urging Congress to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to ban the use of such tracking without judicial oversight, regardless of how the high court rules.
"GPS technology has made pervasive and continuous location tracking possible in a way that was never before feasible relying solely on human law enforcement officers," the report argued. "When such tracking is conducted, vast quantities of data are collected, automatically stored in a searchable digital database, and analyzed for patterns of behavior that can reveal a great amount of very personal and private information. These technologies convert traditional 'tailing' of a suspect into a new and different type of surveillance, paired with new and powerful digital analytic tools, that alters our analysis of expectations of privacy in a public place. Such tools may be a valuable aid to law enforcement when following a particular suspect. But their use is also a search that should require a warrant based upon a showing of probable cause."
A copy of the report is available in a 120k PDF file at the source link below.