GPS Snooping Opens Pandora's Box

from the private/public-divide dept

A US District Court in New York has ruled that police don’t need a warrant to attach a GPS device to a suspect’s car. The reasoning is pretty straightforward. The car, traveling on public roads, could easily be viewed by someone else on those roads — and thus, there’s no expectation of privacy. All the device is doing is helping to automate what a human would have to do before. However, this does seem to raise a fair number of questions, and some are concerned that the Supreme Court will eventually side with police on this issue. While the article here does get into a few of the issues, there are two others that I thought were interesting. If it’s legal for police to put a GPS device on your vehicle without you knowing it, what about another person? Assuming you could drive somewhere and follow someone, then would it be illegal for you to just put a GPS system on someone else’s car? That seems to follow the logic of the ruling. I would guess this is taken care of by “stalking” laws, and anyone who would put a GPS system on someone’s car would likely get accused of that. The second issue, however, is that many newer cars have GPS systems in them. Almost all new mobile phones have GPS systems in them. So, couldn’t the police take this one step further, and simply request access to the GPS systems you already have on you? If they don’t need a court order to do so, then they could easily just monitor where you are at all times, without any real oversight. Considering that the mobile phone’s GPS will follow you off public roads and onto private property, how can the police guarantee that they won’t keep tabs on you at those points, as well?

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Comments on “GPS Snooping Opens Pandora's Box”

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anonymoose cow-ard says:

Finders Keepers?

More importantly, if I find a GPS device left on my car, that police placed there, do I get to keep it?

Obviously they didn’t want it since they left it behind. I should then be able to take the GPS device that they didn’t want and do whatever I want with it.

Wouldn’t it be fun to attach this GPS device to some passing animal/car/bus/plane/boat and laugh at the police trying to figure out how I managed to drive my car down into the sewer? 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

Well it also stands to reason that you can place GPS devices on police cars, which could be very useful for criminals. It reminds me of the incident in the North West somewhere where. If I remember correctly some thing Bad happend to some one when certian items were found in their trash. Trash was on the curb so no expectation of privacy. Even the mayor was backing this stance until a reporter showed up with her trash wanting to discuss it. The door swings both ways.

Amy says:

GPS and Radar Detection Equipment

This reminds me of a story my father used to tell about how once in the 1950s he was ticketed by a cop using radar detection equipment. The ticket was thrown out by the traffic court because it ruled that traffic cops couldn’t just stalk motorists willy-nilly and that radar detection was just some kind of trickery used to raise revenues and meet ticket quotas. But other judges didn’t agree and hence we have the slippery slope that leads to the use of secret GPS detection equipment. Big brother is indeed watching and it seems his vision gets sharper with age.

James says:

Police and GPS tracking

Regarding police ‘tapping’ existing in-vehicle GPS navigation systems, most GPS systems that I can think of (with the exception of OnStar?) only receive coordinates from GPS satellites and then plot the coordinates in realtime on a mapping system. They do not have transmitters capable of sending the current coordinates back to anyone, let alone police.
Cellular phones with GPS usually have a security option that will disallow any in-network queries of their current position. When 911 queries my phone, it prompts me if I want to send the data to them (Motorola i730). I had to enable this option. By default, it was simply denied.

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