Police Turn to Secret Weapon: GPS Device

Across the country, police are using GPS devices to snare [criminal suspects], often without a warrant or court order. Privacy advocates said tracking suspects electronically constitutes illegal search and seizure, violating Fourth Amendment rights of protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and is another step toward George Orwell’s Big Brother society.

With the … ever-declining cost of the technology, many analysts believe that police will increasingly rely on GPS … and that the public will hear little about it. “I’ve seen them in cases from New York City to small towns — whoever can afford to get the equipment and plant it on a car,” said John Wesley Hall, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“And of course, it’s easy to do. You can sneak up on a car and plant it at any time.” Details on how police use GPS usually become public when the use of the device is challenged in court. Leibig said GPS should be held to a different standard because it provides greater detail. “While it may be true that police can conduct surveillance of people on a public street without violating their rights, tracking a person everywhere they go and keeping a computer record of it for days and days without that person knowing is a completely different type of intrusion,” he said. Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s technology and liberty program, considers GPS monitoring, along with license plate readers, toll transponders and video cameras with face-recognition technology, part of the same trend toward “an always-on, surveillance society.”