Another Court Says Police Don't Violate The Law In Putting A GPS Device On Your Car

from the tracking-you-in-public? dept

We first discussed this issue way back in 2003, wondering whether it was really a violation of privacy for police to put a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car. In 2005, a court said it was perfectly legal, though there were concerns about what this meant. We’re seeing the same concerns as another court has ruled the same way. The reasoning and the logic is effectively the same: if you are traveling on public roads, anyone could (theoretically) drive behind you and see where you are going — even without a warrant. So is it really a violation of privacy if that tracking is done by a little black box attached to your car instead of a big black box with four wheels?

Of course, the flipside to that, is that if you are driving you can also see (for the most part) if there is another car following you and that other car cannot follow you onto private property that you own. A hidden GPS device is quite different on those points. So while the courts seem to be coming down on the side of this not being a violation of privacy, I can definitely see where privacy advocates are troubled by these rulings. The fact that they effectively suggest the police can simply put a hidden GPS device on any car for no reason at all raises plenty of questions — especially in an era when information can and is regularly abused.

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Comments on “Another Court Says Police Don't Violate The Law In Putting A GPS Device On Your Car”

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:Lobo Santo says:

Re: Re:

Wouldn’t ANYBODY doing this be guilty of trespassing, intent to commit mischief, or some other actionable offense?
I’m pretty sure it’s legal to shoot somebody who’s trying to “steal your car”… What if that somebody was an out-of-uniform OR “undercover” cop?
Some dumb cop is going to get shot–and the person who was in the right is going to go to jail for it.

Jake says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Here in the UK the law’s somewhat tighter on self-defense, but a plainclothes officer who got roughed up whilst planting one of these things as a result of being mistaken for a car thief would get very little sympathy from the courts nowadays. I doubt the evidence obtained from such a device could even be used in court in this country, since for some bizarre reason even wire-tapping evidence obtained with a warrant is inadmissible.

Greg G says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So, why aren’t homeowners prosecuted when someone is only “breaking in” to their house? The intruder is not currently threatening to take a human life, but the homeowner is allowed to shoot to kill, thus protecting his property.

The punk trying to steal MY car better value his own life over my vehicle, or he will lose said life. *I* will not suffer (insurance hassles, time lost from work, etc.) just because someone wanted my car for free.

And, back on topic. If any law comes out where GPS can be put on vehicles, I will have it disabled/removed ASAP.

fprintf says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Hassles from showing/using a gun

If you are worried about the hassles and time committment from having to replace or otherwise fix your car, you haven’t seen what happens to someone who shows or uses a gun in most states. The time and money you will need to spend defending yourself in court against the theif or their family, or otherwise against the police if they judge the situation did not warrant the use of a gun, is ridiculous. I know of several people who have legitimately drawn a handgun in a legal CCW state, not fired it, and have been inappropriately charged with brandishing a weapon. It has taken them months to clear everything up and return life to normal. Life would have been easier for them to let what was about to happen occur.

Dave (profile) says:

Re: GPS device on car

I agree with you Rob. It is almost certainly possible today for the police (and possibly otheres) to locate and/or track your whereabouts via OnStar and I’m not so sure that anyone has cause to complain about being tracked.

Autos have always had serial numbers and license plates for the putpose of identification. Every state in the U.S. requires a visible, readable license plate that declares traceable info about the vehicle. Gps is merely a more efficient method of doing the same. I believe we can expect a time in the near future when this type of device will be built into every vehicle at the point of its manufacture.

I believe it has already been determined by the SCOTUS that there is no expectatoion of privacy in public. That means anytime you are not inside your home or a changing room, toilet stall or simular location, you can expect to be observed, possibly filmed or otherwise be under surveillance. It’s a brave new world…

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

If I found a transmiter

I would go with the removal and atachment to a differnt car, or random airplane or even a bird. let the cops follow it for a few days/ weeks and then try to pin all kinds of crimes on me when the GPS shows up at various places around the city.

It would definatly fubar a lot of investigations when it becomes known cops use GPS trackers.

CmdrOberon says:

Re: Unreasonable Search

Bugging someone’s personal property without a warrant is an illegal search.
Putting an electronic listening device into someone’s car w/o a warrant is the same.

Why can they attach an active listening device to a car without a warrant?
It should be tresspassing at the very least. A creative attorney should be able to disallow the evidence based on the 5th Admendment — you don’t have to incriminate yourself. Also, everyone should demand the source code to the entire system to make sure it’s working properly.

I am not surprised with this decision, however. It goes right along with
the rest of the decisions like “Can I search your bag, sir?”, “No, officer, you may not.”. “Well, yes I may. Why? Because I have probable cause now.”

Freedom says:

Re: Turn about is fair play

>> There’s more of us than them. Let’s place GPS on all the police cars, so we are warned because speeding past them.

I’ll donate to this cause. Just like the speed cameras – good for us, good for them 🙂

While we are at it, let’s make sure that the government agencies no longer get to purchase equipment tax free, no more free vehicle registration/property taxes, no state run retirement/health plans, etc. In short, let them live with the laws/world they’ve created for us. After all, if it is good for us, it is good for them.

By the way, don’t even talk about Health Insurance reform until the Congress agrees to use whatever health care system they create for us.


DCX2 says:

The Feds can't do this...

The date is 9/10/2008. A case moves through the Federal Appeals court in the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The feds are trying to get access to cell phone location data without a warrant – similar to this case, where they attach a GPS device to get location data without a warrant.

The Honorable District Court Judge Terrence F. McVerry ruled that the feds need to go get a warrant to track your location via cell phone.

Anonymous Coward says:

This makes no sense at all to me. As far as I know, there is no law preventing me from following a cop around and listening in on his conversations. How is this any different than me placing a listening device on his uniform?

I’m just playing devil’s advocate here but since I can follow anyone around I like (barring a restraining order) does that mean I can also put GPS tracking / listening devices on normal, ordinary people?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Drone

Pauli….is that accurate? If I have a RC helicopter can I fly it outside my neighbors window all day long?

The U.S. Supreme Court has declared the navigable airspace above a property to be “a public highway” and within the “public domain”. The FCC generally sets that altitude at 500 feet, with some exceptions (such as take off and landing). So below 500 feet is generally private property.

RD says:


“It is not legal to shoot someone trying to steal your car. You are only allowed to shoot someone if you are in mortal danger, which does not include car theft. I had a buddy tell me once when he served on a Grand Jury that they indicted several people for just that very offense!”

So…its illegal to use a gun to ward off the thief, so de-facto, car theft is legal. Because how ELSE are you going to stop someone, definitively, from stealing your car? Ask them to go away? Yeah right, they will laugh as they drive off. And since anything less than the threat of deadly force (which is illegal) means someone can take your car, its now legal to take cars.

SlackerSlayer says:

GPS hidden on cars

Some one above said “we do not have the right to privacy”.

sorry but that is what the “Liberty” word is used for. What is liberty?

▸ noun: freedom of choice (“Liberty of opinion”)
▸ noun: personal freedom from servitude or confinement or
▸ noun: immunity from arbitrary exercise of authority:
political independence
▸ noun: leave granted to a sailor or naval officer
▸ noun: an act of undue intimacy

Take it this way. When the sailor is given liberty, does the Officer follow him to and fro? (maybe in todays brotherhood) No. That sailor has the right to go about anywhere he wants to without being bugged by the officer. This sir, entailes privacy.

Some also say it would not be ok to shoot someone tampering with your car. Well you go confront them, when they do anything but appologize and beg servitude, you need to defend yourself. Sorry officer, but you took on an unlawful act for your unlawful enforcement of illegal law(s).

Do they place these on rapists cars, bank robbery suspects, any other “criminal” but drug laws related survilance?

Unconstitutional laws require unconstitutional practices.

Cold says:

Public vs Private

How would they know your going to stay on public roadways and property? If you were to go on to private property, wouldn’t that equal to trespassing? Thats what it would take (short of a helicopter or satellite) to continue to get that information. The police can’t just walk onto your property to look around.

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