GPS Device Data Increasingly Being Used By Police To Determine Where You Were

from the privacy-schmivacy dept

Late last years, the news broke that law enforcement officials had figured out a neat little loophole to obtain location data on you without having to seek a warrant on you using the probable cause standard. Instead, they’re seeking warrants not on the individual, but on the companies that may have data on your location, which only requires a magistrate judge’s approval, and no showing of probable cause. So, how is this playing out? Well, reader JB points us to the news of a sudden growth in lawsuits where police are using data from GPS units to help convict people based on their location at the time of the crime. Since the police can get that data directly from the company without needing to show probable cause, it’s much easier for them to get the data to convict people or push them into plea bargaining. So, while those turn-by-turn directions may be useful, recognize that they may also be used by the police against you in court.

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Comments on “GPS Device Data Increasingly Being Used By Police To Determine Where You Were”

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Zubin says:

Re: So What!

Amanda, you point out the exact reason this is a problem: most of us are not committing any crimes.

Certainly convicting criminals is important, and GPS data can become part of that, but nobody should be able to bypass the proper judicial review before receiving a warrant.

There is no reason the spirit of reasonable search and seizure shouldn’t apply here as well, and the laws will have to be updated to reflect that.

Holy Crap says:

Re: So What!

Amanda -> “If you aren’t committing any crimes why should this be a problem. Ok I understand it may be a rights violation but aren’t you forfeiting your rights when you commit a crime.”

It’s not much of a stretch then to assume guilt just because GPS enabled devices are avoided.

Officer: “Where is your GPS cell phone ?”
Me: “I do not have one”
Officer: “You have the right to remain silent …..”

Grae says:

Re: So What!

Read this:

(My own words below, not from the article linked:)

The argument that “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about” is a red herring; in truth privacy is as inseparable from freedom as your internal organs are from you.

In a “nothing to hide” society, law enforcement by default is given unlimited surveillance, search, and seizure rights; remember, if you’ve got nothing to hide, then a police officer pulling you over and turning your car inside out with no explanation shouldn’t be a problem, right? Wiretap on all voice and data lines in your home and work? Medical record search? Financial record search? No problem! You’ve got nothing to hide, right? We just need to check you out to keep society safe. And remember your privacy rights don’t overrule the right of society to be safe.

This scope of data collection would flood law enforcement, and the obvious solution would be to put “impartial” computers into place to interpret it all, and search for matches to criminal profiles based on YOUR day-to-day activities.

When the police come for you because a computer (which, by the way, is not capable of putting events into a human context) in a federal monitoring facility has flagged you as possibly having committed a crime or connected to a criminal just remember: you don’t have anything to worry about because you’ve got nothing to hide.

Assuming that law enforcement even realizes it’s a mistake, they can’t be held liable for falsely accusing you and arresting you, after all, if you had nothing to hide, you wouldn’t have gone about your day-to-day life in such a suspicious manner that would have cause their monitoring computers to flag you as a suspect. Nevermind any time lost or damage to your personal reputation (your employer can’t take you back, you’ve been arrested, and that may flag their business and their employees as criminal suspects), nevermind all that! You had nothing to hide, right?

neil says:

Re: Re: So What!

wait a minute.
you dont point out any problems with the nothing to hide idea. you only point out interuptions in your life harrasment.

people accept the concept, if they beleve, of god being all knowing, why? because he does so whitout your knowing.

if law enforcment could record all matter on earth at all times through the day and review that recorded information they could search your car without you being interupted and since you had nothing to hide they whould find nothing and see the nothing to hide system works flawlessly.

Grae says:

Re: So What!

Also “aren’t you forfeiting your rights when you commit a crime.” Uh…… NO.

Where are you from? If you’re from the U.S., go back to high school and take a basic U.S. History class. If you’re not from the U.S. then I feel sorry for you and whatever backwards country you live in that the laws there would perpetuate such a belief.

You know when a police officer is arresting someone and they list off a set of rights starting with “You have the right to remain silent.”? Those are called Miranda RIGHTS, and if the law in the U.S. was truly as you say, then there would be no need for suspects being arrested to even be advised of them.

Also, in this “no rights for criminals” fantasy world, those serving time in prison could be tortured and used for slave labor with no legal recourse. This goes with my previous post, that those mistakenly accused criminals would be in for a lifetime of Hell, without ever having committed any wrong doing.

B's Opinion Only (profile) says:

Just so everyone understands, GPS as used in personal navigation systems is ONE-way. Your GPS unit receives a signal from a number of satellites and calculates the time offset between them to pinpoint your location.

Do you really think a $99 device with a small built-in antenna is continually transmitting your whereabouts and that of millions of others to satellites thousands of miles away?!?

Although the article doesn’t mention it, the info the police are using would be from people who subscribe and pay for a two-way GPS location system. Typically these use the cel phone network to allow suspicious spouses to track each other, or businesses to know where their trucks are.

Techdirt does not usually subscribe to this level of technology-is-too-scary hysteria.

Portnoy says:

Privacy-Schmivacy Dept is Confused

The first referenced article talks about cops getting location information from the telcos based on cellphones. The second article describes law enforcement getting location information based on the data in your portable/automobile GPS by physically confiscating it and checking the history. GPS units, i.e., Garmin, Tom-Tom, do not send location info back to the manufacturer so the companies do not have any data to provide law enforcement. A modern cellphone continuously sends location data back to the service provider while it is turned on and we know the telcos are in bed with the government.

Eric B says:


I wonder if they’re accessing “On Star” which is a two way transmission system.
Either way, this is not the first or the last time the authorities skirt around laws to get what they want.

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.

by Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945

Nick (profile) says:

I think it should be noted that this is only possible with GPS systems that can “call home” and send the GPS data to a server provider (such as OnStar or the telecoms). Your basic $100-$500 stand-alone GPS unit is not going to do this. It may keep your previous routes in it’s internal memory, but it will probably not track you if you have not told it to. Even then, we could get to the point where police pull you over, ask to see your GPS, and then try to use your previous whereabouts against you. I think the ability to keep GPS data private within the device is going to be a new feature of GPS units very soon.

JB says:

Why so many

Why do so many people have GPS these days is beyond me. I see them on most cars. Are there that many people who actually need them? What is there no ability to remember how to get to that same job everyday.

Except for the traveling business folks, there is no real need. I’ll never need one , I can follow a map and have a real sense of direction.

Obviously it’s the stupid criminals, the real ones know where they are going.

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