The Washington Post reports on a case in Virginia involving warrantless tracking of suspect through the use of GPS technology. In its opinion (pdf) for Foltz vs. Virginia, the Virginia Court of Appeals considered the right to privacy.
The rights of a convicted sex offender [David L. Foltz], who was being tracked as a suspect in a string of sexual assaults, were not violated when Fairfax County police secretly placed a global positioning system device on his vehicle without a warrant, the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday. The ruling creates a precedent in Virginia, but only adds to conflicting rulings about whether putting a GPS tracking device on someone’s car violates that person’s right to privacy. […]
But a federal appeals court in California ruled in January that the tracking of an Oregon man with a GPS device was legal, as did a federal appeals court in Illinois in 2007. In the latter ruling, Judge Richard A. Posner wrote: “One can imagine the police affixing GPS tracking devices to thousands of cars at random, recovering the devices, and using digital search techniques to identify suspicious driving patterns. One can even imagine a law requiring all new cars to come equipped with the device so that the government can keep track of all vehicular movement in the United States.”
Judge Randolph A. Beales, writing the appeals court’s opinion, said, “the actual act of simply placing the GPS device in the bumper of [Foltz’s] work van conveyed no private information to the police and because [Foltz] did nothing to prevent the public from observing the bumper, we find he did not exhibit an expectation of privacy in this area of the van.”
Beales also said that “the police used the GPS device to crack this case by tracking appellant on the public roadways — which they could, of course, do in person any day of the week at any hour without obtaining a warrant. . . . As observing a person’s work van on the public streets is not unconstitutional, the police’s use of the GPS system to track [Foltz] while he was in the van on the public streets likewise did not violate the Fourth Amendment.”