Wired reports on the issues of location tracking and GPS surveillance technology:
The Supreme Court is set to hear historic arguments Tuesday in what perhaps is the most important Fourth Amendment case in a decade — one weighing the collision of privacy, technology and the Constitution.
The question before the justices asks: May the police secretly install a Global Positioning System device on a vehicle without a probable cause warrant issued by a judge in order to track a suspect’s every move?
The last time the justices were confronted with the blending of technology and privacy was a decade ago before the mass proliferation of GPS gadgets. The high court at the time ruled in favor of constitutional protections when it concluded that thermal-imaging devices used to detect marijuana-growing operations inside a house amounted to a search and therefore required a court warrant. Contrast this to a prior ruling in 1983 when the justices said it was okay for the government to use beepers known as “bird dogs” to track a suspect’s vehicle without a warrant.
Technology has advanced since both of these cases, feeding the government’s growing hunger for cost-efficient, easy-to-use spy tools, and making the latest debate before the justices seem Orwellian. Today, one’s exact position on Earth can easily be secretly monitored with devices costing less than $200. Add to this the government’s argument in court briefs that “a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another,” and you have the makings for widespread, unchecked surveillance. […]
Perhaps a bigger issue than the one before the Supreme Court next week, is the private use of GPS trackers.
A number of companies selling GPS trackers also market devices the size of playing cards to private citizens – such as to parents for tracking children, to private investigators and attorneys for tracking errant spouses, and to businesses with fleets of vehicles for tracking employee whereabouts.
There are no clear rules regarding when private citizens can place a tracking device on someone else’s vehicle. And even if the Supreme Court rules that the police violate the Fourth Amendment by using trackers without a warrant, that ruling won’t apply to citizens. It would take Congress or state authorities to pass a law regulating private use of tracking devices. […]
Jude Daggett, part-owner of Tracking the World of Burlingame, California, said in a telephone interview that he has sold “hundreds of GPS devices” to law enforcement, but the majority of his business comes from consumers.