written by: allychevalier•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 9/21/2009
GPS is a powerful tool for locating people... even against their knowledge and consent. So, it should come of no surprise that there are numerous court cases involving GPS technology and who gets to use it, from governments playing at Big Brother to stalking cases. Here's an overview.
slide 1 of 4
The (Lack of) Law
As far as the US is concerned, what does the law say regarding GPS? As with most new technologies, very little—the federal legislation just hasn't been written up yet, as it's still an emerging and evolving issue. There are sporadic state laws regarding the use of GPS, some states requiring it for, say, level 2 sex offenders, or where GPS as a navigational aid may be placed on a windshield. However, the sheer lack of legislation has led to a sporadic array of court rulings, especially when it comes to police tracking by GPS:
The court verdicts have been a mixed bag on this, from entirely permissive to hostile. A recent 2009 case in Wisconsin ruled that the police can use GPS to track anyone, without probable cause, without a warrant, without consent, without anything at all. The logic used here was that GPS tracking was not any more invasive than normal police tracking, and did not constitute of a “search and seizure." A similar case occurred in 2005 in New York, which was later more-or-less overturned in 2009. Another recent 2009 case in Massachusetts ruled that, while GPS tracking was perfectly acceptable on public property, the moment that the device strayed into private property, the police needed a warrant to continue tracking. The examples are numerous.
The general trend in court cases seems to be one of approval for use of warrantless, secretive GPS tracking of criminals and suspects, as long as the device remains on public property and does not stray. However, the rulings are erratic enough that anything can really happen.