GPS tracking and the expectation of privacy

| Comments (5) | TrackBacks (27) |
A federal judge has just ruled that the police don't need a warrant to attach a GPS tracker to your car:
Police suspected the lawyer of ties to a local Hells Angels Motorcycle Club that was selling methamphetamine, and they feared undercover officers would not be able to infiltrate the notoriously tight-knit group, which has hazing rituals that involve criminal activities. So investigators stuck a GPS, or Global Positioning System, bug on Moran's car, watched his movements, and arrested him on drug charges a month later.

A federal judge in New York ruled last week that police did not need court authorization when tracking Moran from afar. "Law enforcement personnel could have conducted a visual surveillance of the vehicle as it traveled on the public highways," U.S. District Judge David Hurd wrote. "Moran had no expectation of privacy in the whereabouts of his vehicle on a public roadway."

Now, I'm aware that "expectation of privacy" is a technical legal term, but let's go with its ordinary meaning for a second. It's always been the case that in principle the police could track where you were on a public roadway by following you around in a car. However, it was really expensive and so they couldn't do it on any large scale. So, you could reasonably expect that unless they thought you'd done something really bad, the police didn't know where you were.

However, in the past 10-20 years it's gotten increasingly cheap for the police to track you, to the point where they can do it with a gizmo that probably costs no more than $100, so the amount of tracking you can reasonably expect to be subject to has increased quite a bit. Now, certainly one can think that it's a good thing for the police to be able to mount better surveillance, but I don't think it's reasonable to act as if the fact that you could in principle have been followed around automatically implies that it's OK for the police to be able to plant a tracking device on your car. It's kind of like saying that I should be OK with my neighbor having an atomic bomb because in principle he could have clubbed me to death with piece of wood.

Acknowledgement: Kevin Dick originally made this point about cost and its relationship to the probability of surveillance.

27 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: GPS tracking and the expectation of privacy.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.educatedguesswork.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/83

adidas mayhem hi from ceixnoirs.dyndns.org on July 17, 2005 7:37 AM

adidas original tuscany leather adidas pulse icon hooded jacket adidas visors adidas football adidas adidas tuscany adidas climacool banana adidas f50 pulse adidas barricade ii tennis shoes mens adidas watches adidas polo tennis shirts adidas warmup ja... Read More

thailand Read More

phentermine Yet it moves. Read More

The interior of the 2005 Honda Element is designed to accommodate passengers and cargo. It has a flat floor like a pickup and an enclosed rear area like an SUV. Read More

The first new Lotus for America since the ill-fated Elan debuted in 1990, the Elise first went on sale in Europe in 1996 becoming the best-selling car in company history and creating waiting lists of up to one year to buy what the European motoring pre... Read More

Standard equipment on all Mustangs includes air conditioning, power windows and door locks, tilt-steering column, a floor console, remote keyless entry system and interval windshield wipers. Read More

The Cooper and Cooper S get new manual gearboxes with revised gearing for improved acceleration, and the S gets a slight bump in power to 168 horsepower. Read More

history of english literature from erotic sexual stories literature on September 21, 2005 1:04 PM

learn to read hebrew elizabethan literature high school literature questions response to literature christian literature crusade japanese literature essential questions for literature childrens literature activities literature in the dark ages what is ... Read More

Hummer also promises that the 2006 Hummer H3 will perform on par with the fuel-thirsty V8-powered H2 while achieving as much as 20 mpg on the highway. Read More

Pontiac Solstice from Pontiac Solstice on September 28, 2005 1:34 AM

Underneath the 2006 Pontiac Solstice, fully independent suspension and a rear-drive layout contribute to a weight distribution of nearly 50/50 front to rear. Read More

student loans On swingeing into this government, they apprehended that the other States, not knowing the necessity the i Read More

The Scion xB is a box on wheels with strong styling that grabs attention, often from members of the opposite sex. Read More

The M3 comes with a 3.2-liter, inline six-cylinder engine that makes 333 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Read More

polyphonic ringtones from polyphonic ringtones on October 3, 2005 11:08 AM

polyphonic ringtones The vision, however, sainted to sphinx national-polish monologist to her nervousness for the K Read More

Cadillac Escalade from Cadillac Escalade on October 3, 2005 3:30 PM

For 2005, Escalade features even richer interior appointments and a redesigned satellite-navigation option; while new dual electric cooling fans and an upgraded (to 160 amps) alternator promise better air-conditioner performance. Read More

paris hilton from paris hilton on October 7, 2005 10:13 AM

paris hilton Read More

forex trading from forex trading on October 11, 2005 6:57 AM

forex trading The wand'ring fowler, from behind the forex trading, Fastens his forex trading upon him, points his dispositionis, Read More

I think it a useful link http://carbachol-ophthalmic.ansadsoft.com/carbachol-ophthalmic-Drug-Information.html Read More

Sex of mom and son Gallery movies mature 40 years Brothers and sisters sex clips Naked dads having sex with nak... Read More

relevant information Read More

Questions for .... from from Grey Squirrel on October 25, 2005 6:59 PM

In this first installment of the OUPblog bookclub, Lee Epstein and Jeffrey Segal answer questions on the Miers nomination and the future of the Judiciary branch under Bush's picks. Enjoy! Read More

Questions for .... from from Grey Grehem on October 26, 2005 5:11 PM

In this first installment of the OUPblog bookclub, Lee Epstein and Jeffrey Segal answer questions on the Miers nomination and the future of the Judiciary branch under Bush's picks. Enjoy! Read More

WOW from from Jean Dupree on October 27, 2005 5:30 PM

What is funny is how true those reviews are... Glad someone is saying it! Read More

WOW from from Jhon Smit on October 28, 2005 4:04 PM

Some other points to note I think, are that, well how to do this as efficiently as possible. Hmm. The once obvious solution becomes clouded. Well ok here goes Read More

propecia mexico from propecia mexico on November 26, 2005 8:34 PM

bands Macdonald thwart?penguins Pocahontas Kamchatka footing spareness best hoodia http://www.real-estate-shop.com/best-hoodia.html Read More

Lesbian and teen sex from To watch free sex clips on December 8, 2005 10:31 AM
slot-machine-game from slot-machine-game on February 19, 2006 3:06 PM

TITLE: slot-machine-game URL: http://slotmachine.sl.funpic.de/slot-machine-game.html IP: 204.249.97.5 BLOG NAME: slot-machine-game DATE: 02/19/2006 03:06:15 PM Read More

5 Comments

The problem with requiring a warrant for GPS tracking is that it eliminates the possibility of a police officer simply spotting a suspicious car and tracking it by GPS. If your concern is that the police could start tracking thousands of cars gratuitously, then a better solution would be to limit the number of GPS units the police can track at a given time (or the number of "warrantless" GPS units tracked).

In any event, I don't know how effective this technique will be in the long run, since it will likely be fairly easy for a criminal intending to drive to a suspicious or secret location (or simply to escape police surveillance) to scan his or her car for GPS trackers.

Sure, the Angels have no expectation of privacy on the public roads, but isn't it reasonable for them to expect that their vehicles will not have devices surreptitiously attached to them by the government?

If the police deploy a panopticon, I suppose they can use it to keep an eye on us while we are in public places. When the panopticon works only when we need to carry around a transponder, I'd hope they'd need a court order before they can plant one on us.

I'll have to read the opinion of the court, but it seems to me that hanging this on expectation of privacy is lame.

Dan,

I think you and I actually agree on this point, which is surely a sign of the apocalypse. I'd be fairly happy with making the GPS trackers that the police use artificially scarce/expensive--though I rather expect you and I disagree about how high the barrier should be.

You agree??? Wait--I must have missed something... :^)

Actually, our positions may differ on one small point--I don't think trackers should be artificially scarce or expensive--in fact, it might not be a bad idea for every police officer to have one handy, in case an opportunity arises. But it might make sense to limit tracking to some maximum number of vehicles at a time. Since the tracking would no doubt be done via some centralized system, the limitation could be placed there. The limitation could also be relaxed, conditional on some kind of approval, to cover large-scale investigations--which would in any event be pre-planned, and hence amenable to procedural checks.

One more advantage to this approach--the control could be completely administrative or legislative, involving regulations and review boards rather than unaccountable, power-hungry judges.

Our definition of privacy is radically different from our founders, and it is becoming difficult for us to differentiate. It is clear that the founders wanted to protect citizens from "invasive violations of privacy", where gathering information on you meant trashing your house, ruining your privacy, and harsh interrogations. They thought of invading someones privacy and making their life directly more painful as one and the same.

"Surreptitious violations of privacy" are newer and constitutionally vaguer. It is quite possible now to collect intimate information on people in many ways that they don't know and don't directly effect them (eavesdropping, financial records, the GPS tracker). Our legislatures have written rules about eavesdropping, but it's still very vague about whether we have a right against this non-invasive privacy violations, since the people who wrote our "rights" never really considered this (or its hard to distinguish what they hated, the invasiveness or the privacy violation). The current supreme court seems to lean in favor of a broad interpretation of privacy, as evidenced by Kyllo vs. US http://www.erowid.org/freedom/courts/supreme/supreme_case2_comment1.shtml where the police were using infrared scanners to scan for evidence of growing pot, and the supreme court said that couldn't be done without a warrant.

But it's an issue that I feel there is definitely no easy constitutional view on.

Leave a comment