Massachusetts Says Cops Need Warrant To Stick GPS Device On Your Car

from the that-makes-two-states dept

For the past few years, it’s become increasingly common for police to put GPS devices on suspects’ cars to track where they are. But, that’s kicked up a bunch of legal questions concerning whether or not it’s legal to do that without a warrant. So far, the courts have not really agreed. Earlier this year, we saw one court (a federal appeals court, 4th circuit) say that police didn’t need a warrant, but then, just days later, a court in NY ruled the other way, saying that it was a violation of the 4th Amendment. Now, the state Supreme Court in Massachusetts has weighed in as well, again saying that a warrant is needed to put a GPS device on your car. So that makes NY and Massachusetts as states where police can’t randomly stick GPS devices on your car. The other 48 states? Good luck…

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Comments on “Massachusetts Says Cops Need Warrant To Stick GPS Device On Your Car”

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syzygy (profile) says:

New Technology, New problems

I can understand where the police are coming from, but the thought of the police putting GPS devices on any car they want does not seem like a good outcome. If a warrant was not required, what would stop the police from putting GPS devices on every car? Requiring a warrant will prevent abuse and make sure that GPS tracking is only used when they have good reason to follow someone.

I imagine that this will become a bigger issue as other states start to do similar things, so I expect this to come up again.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“The main argument I think is that the police don’t need a warrant to follow you in their car so why should they need a warrant to use a GPS instead of a police officer?”

Yes, that’s probably the argument, but it’s a silly one. To properly analogize GPS and following someone, you need to take into account that they are literally invading the integrity of your personal property in placing a physical object on your person or property (assuming they aren’t just LoJacking them.

If you think of it that way, it’s akin to them saying, “Well, we could just walk behind you and listen to everything you say, so putting this listening bug on you is no big deal. No, no, gentle citizen, it HAS to up the anus, and yes the only way to put it there is with these rusty pliers.”

Okay, well maybe not that last part….

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s one thing to follow someone in public, it’s another to install a device onto that same car. If I did it I would be charged with vandalism, breaking into said car, stalking, and probably anything else they can shove in my face to make an example out of me (like computer hacking).

Nah, if the cops have just cause to do that, then they can convince a judge to give them a warrant.

zellamayzao says:

Re: Re:

my father was a police officer for 20 years and I really didnt have much of anything to fear because I was brought up to obey the laws….most of them anyway haha.

Anyway if you have nothing to hide, you obviously have nothing to fear. Though if they have nothing to convict then they need not be suspecting me either.

Its an invasion of privacy and I do not appreciate that people take such a apathetic attitudes towards things like that.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“because I was brought up to obey the laws….most of them anyway haha.”

“Anyway if you have nothing to hide, you obviously have nothing to fear. Though if they have nothing to convict then they need not be suspecting me either.”

That’s the point. We all have something to hide. If you think you have broken no laws on any one day, you are probably wrong. Picked up some change off the street recently? Did you report it on your taxes? Did you return the found property to the police station so it could be returned to its owner? And the list goes on.
Listen to this:
You’ll see what I mean…

zellamayzao says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I am aware I break all kinds of laws everyday. I am rarely under the speed limit when I drive. I dont always put my blinker on 300 feet before I make a turn (law here in Delaware) and sometimes cross the street not in a designated crosswalk.

If I found a GPS on my car placed there by the police wanting to track my whereabouts they would be sorely disappointed with where I travel to. Work…home….thats about it really. I would be pissed they placed it there with out my permission but that’s the whole point of it being there and I know they wouldnt find anything to convict me on any charges other than needing a more exciting life.

If the law nationwide is that they need a warrant to place some sort of tracking devise on someones car then it would be better because they would have to prove they have reason to believe someone is doing some shady business. But if they are allowed to just willy nilly slap stuff on cars because they want to then we have problems.

Plus then they would also be able to tack on extra charges to people, for speeding etc, with the gps knowing where they went and how fast they got there taking the ability for people to face their persecutors in a court of law because an electronic device caught them and they dont have much of a personality

andythecoderman says:

Rule of thumb

I think the rule of thumb as far as searches and surveillance is that anything that legal for a citizen to do should be legal for police, otherwise the cops should have to get a warrant.

Sure I can follow someone down the sidewalk and listen to what they say, but if I did so every day for an extended period of time or followed them into their home; I would get thrown in jail for stalking.

Martin Cohn (profile) says:

Federal vs state interpretations.

It depends on the judicial district, but in Eastern Missouri the rules are:

1. If you’re going hook into the electrical system you need a court order, period.

2. If the installation takes you into the curtailage of the target (e.g. carport), you need a court order.

3. Other cases take verbal concurrence of the Assistant US Attorney handling the case. In other words, there must be an active criminal investigation and not a fishing expedition.

The affidavit for the court order and the warrant are the same format. Granted the bar is slightly higher for a warrant than a court order, but the procedure is the same and there will be a request to seal the warrant until the device is removed.

teknosapien (profile) says:

Wonder what happens if

I find said device and destroy it or do other felonious things with it? Can I be charged with a crime for removing a piece of “my Vehicle” and placing on say a migratory fowl or a black bear or driving over it with a bulldozer?

I think there is more than the 4th amendment to be considered here placing such a device would mean that your personal property was accessed with out your knowledge. Could this be considered breaking and entering by the police?

I think there is a lot more at stake here than just the 4th

susan s. says:

tracking devices and police.

Does anyone not understand that our rights are slowly being stripped from us? My vehicle is my property. What gives them the right to hide something under it? When my brother is suspect in a non-violent crime do they put a tracker under all the family cars or just his? How would anyone like to be followed around all day? We are not talking about employers who track thier own vehicles. We are talking about some street cop being able to decide whether he has probable cause To tamper with your vehicle without a court order from a judge. Let the judges decide.

Peter says:

Track Everyone??

This would only be the beginning. If the courts permit the police to put tracking devices on cars what’s going to stop them in the future puting tracking devices on us without warrants. It seems as the years go by the more freedom we lose.

If the police should not need a warrant to tag a car, then a stalker can tag his victims car without breaking the law.

Wisconsin is the only state that does not believe in the Ammendment 4 of our Constitutional rights. Is there even any crimee in Wisconsin? Our Constitution is very important and their are plenty of fiends who would like to abolish it.

Jason says:

Cops can do whatever they want. When it boils down…it’ll be your word against theirs. They can video tape you, audio tape you, place Gps, run any backround report you can think of, stop you, search you, detain you and with a hunch. We are in a country where the crimnals are innocent till proven guilty…and the innocent have to prove they are innocent (if you didn’t do anything wrong you don’t have to worry if they search your home or do some tests on the side of the road). It’s not like crime is going down…..

chaz says:


The problem is not that simple, Your car is your personal property. No one should be allowed to touch it let alone place objects on it without you permission. I’ve seen this stuff go way to far. Even used to get people that the police want to keep tabs on for no criminal reason. There is a political component to policing and we can’t forget that. If they (the police) need to track a criminal, then they should get a warrant and be prepared to explain WHY they believe they need that warrant. Its a safeguard to our liberties that should never be downplayed.

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