By on May 14, 2009

New York state’s highest court ruled Tuesday that police can’t use GPS technology to track criminal suspects without a warrant in a decision at least one Long Island law enforcement official said would add an unnecessary step in an investigation. A spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said she disagreed with the decision of the state Court of Appeals, which ruled 4-3 that satellite tracking devices violate the rights of suspects unless authorized by a judge. But the ruling, in a case stemming from an upstate robbery investigation, won’t compromise current investigations in Nassau involving GPS devices, spokesman Eric Phillips said.

The court’s majority said state police in upstate Latham conducted an illegal search when they attached a tracking device to a van belonging to robbery suspect. Without a judge’s approval, “the use of these powerful devices presents a significant and, to our minds, unacceptable risk of abuse,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Susan Read wrote that banning warrantless electronic surveillance “unnecessarily burdens” police and the courts.

Rice “agrees with the dissenting judges and believes the only difference between visual surveillance by officers and a GPS being stuck on the exterior of a car on a public street is the use of technology,” Phillips said.

Critics say warrantless use of tracking devices poses a threat to privacy and violates constitutional protections against illegal searches and seizures.

“In an era of rapidly advancing surveillance technology, this is an extraordinarily important ruling,” said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Phillips said Nassau investigators will seek judicial authorization before using GPS devices. “The office will have to jump through another hoop to continue to use them, so that’s what we’ll do,” Phillips said.

A Nassau police spokesman, Det. Sgt. Anthony Repalone, said Tuesday it is routine to seek court warrants allowing surveillance. “This is one additional thing that we would apply for,” he said.

Suffolk police will abide by the court’s ruling, a spokeswoman said. The Suffolk district attorney’s office did not return calls for comment.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

6 Comments on “NY Appeals Court Strikes Down Warrantless GPS Tracking...”


  • avatar
    montgomery burns

    Suffolk police will abide by the court’s ruling, a spokeswoman said.

    Wow. That’s big of them.

  • avatar
    PeregrineFalcon

    … in a decision at least one Long Island law enforcement official said would add an unnecessary step in an investigation.

    Yeah, that “burden of proof” and “due process” crap is always getting in the way too. Can we be off with those next? Just charge, convict, and sentence, right at the roadside!

    Sincerely,

    Officer Judge Dredd
    Mega-City One PD

  • avatar
    dwford

    I don’t understand how any law enforcement agency would think this is legal. While it is true that our actions are observable while driving in public, the argument that a warrantless GPS tracker that “sees” me everywhere is the same as me driving past a police officer is bunk. That fact that we are not under 24 hour surveillance is called PRIVACY. Yes, there are surveillance cameras everywhere, but no one it putting all those disparate images together unless I am suspected of a crime. I believe a WARRANT lets the police pull together all the images to track my movement.

    If I attached one of these devices to an ex-girlfriends car, it would be called stalking. I don’t see how a badge makes it any less so.

  • avatar
    Cashmoney

    The court did the right thing. America is not yet a police state in which our rights get compromised away because the cops don’t like being inconvenienced with paperwork and procedural rigamarole.

    But it’s shocking that it was a 4-3 ruling. Why didn’t the Court of Appeals give Big Brother a 7-0 kick in the balls in favor of freedom and privacy?

  • avatar
    NBK-Boston

    On the one hand, the police could just assign an officer to follow you around all day, as you drove on public roads, without a warrant…

    On the other hand, that approach is costly, conspicuous and — if you’re good — it can be evaded.

    A GPS unit is cheap, hard to notice or evade, always-on and always accurate. It can also track you on private property, which is meaningless when the extent of private property is just a driveway, but significant if the private property is a large farm or ranch.

    So, large private tracts aside, the GPS tracker is just like the old fashioned officer-following-you-around, but it also isn’t, for all the reasons noted above. The question really becomes where to draw the line. For my part, I think this decision is correct. But I also recognize that the decision here is not between obvious black and white, but rather where to draw the line between varying shades of gray.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    NBK-Boston:
    So, large private tracts aside, the GPS tracker is just like the old fashioned officer-following-you-around, but it also isn’t, for all the reasons noted above. The question really becomes where to draw the line. For my part, I think this decision is correct. But I also recognize that the decision here is not between obvious black and white, but rather where to draw the line between varying shades of gray.

    My problem with this ruling is that courts are a poor place to decide all the ‘shades of gray’ that this issue raises.

    In the future, NY Courts will be contemplating exactly how much video, real time, and cell phone surveillance is necessary to require a warrant. And expecting predictable, logical, and consistent rules from assorted courts is a nightmare for the average detective or cop.

    This issue is ripe for the legislature to step in and set rules regarding suspect crimes & time limits. But in NY State, where the felons’ wing of the Democratic Party has a great deal of influence, allowing the courts to throw chaotic, ever-changing rules at law enforcement is part of the long term agenda.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • tod stiles: So we shouldn’t have articles about the roads and bridges we drive on, the railroads that deliver...
  • DeadWeight: “We’re going to be spending trillions to make every road, bridge, tunnel, overpass, sewer...
  • mchan1: Due to today’s technology, it doesn’t make sense for the automakers to make Stripper trim...
  • zip89123: Not in CA where I’ve lived. The Democrats want carpool lanes, mass transit, electric car rebates,...
  • Lorenzo: If he can sell FCA for a decent price so the Agnelli family can finally be rid of the auto biz, Sergio will...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff