The New York Times reports on a case concerning law enforcement use of GPS tracking devices:
In a 4-to-3 ruling, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that the State Police violated a criminal suspect’s rights under the State Constitution when it placed a GPS tracking device inside the bumper of his van without obtaining a warrant.
The police had used the device to monitor the movements of the suspect, Scott C. Weaver, for more than two months. But the court ordered the evidence gathered from the device suppressed and ordered a new trial for Mr. Weaver.
In three written opinions, the judges on the court debated the constitutional issues raised by the growing use of global positioning system technology as a tool of surveillance. The case could set an important precedent for state and local police agencies.
The ruling is based on the state, not federal, Constitution, so it will apply only in the state of New York.
Writing for the majority (pdf), Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said:
One need only consider what the police may learn, practically effortlessly, from planting a single device. The whole of a person’s progress through the world, into both public and private spatial spheres, can be charted and recorded over lengthy periods possibly limited only by the need to change the transmitting unit’s batteries. Disclosed in the data retrieved from the transmitting unit, nearly instantaneously with the press of a button on the highly portable receiving unit, will be trips the indisputably private nature of which takes little imagination to conjure: trips to the psychiatrist, the plastic surgeon, the abortion clinic, the AIDS treatment center, the strip club, the criminal defense attorney, the by-the-hour motel, the union meeting, the mosque, synagogue or church, the gay bar and on and on. What the technology yields and records with breathtaking quality and quantity, is a highly detailed profile, not simply of where we go, but by easy inference, of our associations — political, religious, amicable and amorous, to name only a few — and of the pattern of our professional and avocational pursuits.