Law Enforcement

Reasonable Expectation Of Privacy: GPS Tracking

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GPS Tracker Search Warrant Example

Over the past few years, no subject has been under more debate and scrutiny among 4th Amendment advocates, police agencies, and lawyers than the use of GPS tracking system technology and how it relates to vehicle monitoring. This is because the use of GPS trackers among government and police agencies to conduct personal surveillance has been heavily criticized for infringing on the privacy rights of citizens. However, people should understand that an individual’s right to privacy is entirely based on if that individual would have what is defined as a reasonable expectation of that privacy. This is essentially what is looked at when GPS tracker systems are placed upon a person’s automobile.

Clearly, there are certain forums people understand they cannot expect privacy. Such as the case if a person sends out a message using Twitter or posts something on their Facebook wall (assuming they don’t have privacy settings). When information is exposed in a public forum privacy simply cannot be expected. However, this same principle applies to people participating in everyday actions such as driving down the street. People who drive down the street can’t cover up their license plates because when people become part of the public their information also becomes public. If a person doesn’t want their vehicle seen by the public they have every right to keep it hidden in their garage. Basically, if a person is in public they shouldn’t have an expectation of privacy.

United States v Jones Supreme Court Decision

Although the laws regarding the use of GPS vehicle tracking devices continue to change in different states, in many cases a person or government agency can place a GPS tracker on a person’s automobile if that automobile is in a public location. The street, the store, or essentially any location outside of a person’s private property could be classified as public. This means a police officer could affix a real-time GPS tracking system underneath a person’s vehicle while they are inside a store shopping and then monitor the driving activity of that vehicle for days or weeks! Police authorities who go through the proper legal channels and acquire a warrant could also be granted the ability to place a GPS tracker inside the cab of a person’s vehicle or hard-wire the tracker system.

There have been a number of cases reaching high courts involving police use of GPS tracking systems to monitor vehicles and people suspected of engaging in illegal activity. Of course, each case has had different results based on the procedure and state laws so it is difficult to set a concrete standard, but regardless the authorities do have some ability to utilize search warrants as a method of using GPS trackers on vehicles.

What people should know is that they should not expect privacy while conducting affairs in public, and that police will always have some authority to use GPS tracking systems if they can establish some justifiable cause why. Therefore, people engaging in illegal conduct and activity should be aware that at any given time they could be under surveillance.