Police need warrant for GPS tracking: court

Mon Jan 23, 2012 4:25pm EST
 
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By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that police cannot put a GPS device on a suspect's car to track his movements without a warrant, a test case that upholds basic privacy rights in the face of new surveillance technology.

The high court ruling was a defeat for the Obama administration, which had argued that a warrant was not required to use global positioning system devices to monitor a vehicle on public streets.

The justices unanimously upheld a precedent-setting ruling by a U.S. appeals court that the police must first obtain a warrant to use a GPS device for an extended period of time to covertly follow a suspect.

The high court ruled that placement of a device on a vehicle and using it to monitor the vehicle's movements was covered by U.S. constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures of evidence.

There are no precise statistics on how often police in the United States use GPS tracking in criminal investigations. But the Obama administration told the court last year it was used sparingly by federal law enforcement officials.

The American Civil Liberties Union rights group hailed the ruling as an important victory for privacy. "While this case turned on the fact that the government physically placed a GPS device on the defendant's car, the implications are much broader," Steven Shapiro of the ACLU said.

"A majority of the court acknowledged that advancing technology, like cell phone tracking, gives the government unprecedented ability to collect, store, and analyze an enormous amount of information about our private lives," he said.

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