Warrant needed for GPS tracking while civilian use rises

(También en Español)

News of Note: Private Snoops Find GPS Trail Legal to Follow

Online, and soon in big-box stores, you can buy a device no bigger than a cigarette pack, attach it to a car without the driv

er’s knowledge and watch the vehicle’s travels — and stops — at home on your laptop.

Tens of thousands of Americans are already doing just that, with little oversight, for purposes as seemingly benign as tracking an elderly parent with dementia or a risky teenage driver, or as legally and ethically charged as spying on a spouse or an employee — or for outright criminal stalking.

The advent of Global Positioning System tracking devices has been a boon to law enforcement, making it easier and safer, for example, for agents to link drug dealers to kingpins.

Last Monday, in a decision seen as a first step toward setting boundaries for law enforcement, the Supreme Court held that under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, placing a GPS tracker on a vehicle is a search. Police departments around the country say they will be more likely to seek judicial approval before using the devices, if they were not already doing so.

Still, sales of GPS trackers to employers and individuals, for a multitude of largely unregulated uses, are growing fast, raising new questions about privacy and a legal system that has not kept pace with technology.

We previously covered how police were attaching GPS tracking devices to cars without a warrant; thankfully they are no longer allowed to do that. It is still hard to consider this a victory, as GPS use by civilians rises, and loss of privacy remains an issue. Nothing is stopping someone (police or not) from placing a device on a car; it’s unlikely that you would know and even more unlikely that the person would ever be caught.

GPS technology is forcing us to rethink privacy. Unless someone invents an easy way to detect these devices, they will likely become commonplace in our society. Technology continues to grant us access to information, including the ability to spy on one another. How do you think our society will adjust to this new norm?

Image source: From previous coverage of MSNBC “Has the government attached GPS to your car?