Advances in technology, by their nature, will always be ahead of the law. As new technology is created, such as GPS tracking, law enforcement will try to use it for more efficient apprehension of criminals. Unfortunately, there have been no specific laws passed, which dictate what lawful use of GPS technology entails, so judges are left with the responsibility of setting precedents as to what is illegal or legal use of the tech.
Baltimore Federal Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey released a 139-page opinion regarding law enforcement’s use of GPS tracking. The opinion came more than a year after she received an application for a warrant to obtain a suspect’s location information from his cell phone. “In so doing, the government asks to use location data in a new way – not to collect evidence of a crime, but solely to locate a charged defendant,” wrote Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey.
“Some might say that this is an appropriate use of a new technology in the service of more efficient and effective law enforcement. Others might say it is an unnecessary use of a new technology in a society already subjected to a pervasive surveillance. The Court understands the tension. Regardless of individual views, the law does not currently sanction the requested acquisition of location data in these circumstances,” Judge Gauvey added.
Even though the suspect in the case that sparked Gauvey’s opinion was arrested days after the warrant application for GPS tracking was filed, and the fact that the case is more than a year old, the judge still feels her opinion is relevant. Some parties, however, beg to differ.
“The issue was already moot when the judge ordered lawyers to file briefs and argue at a hearing more than one year ago,” offered U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. He thinks the warrant was justified, and claimed that he would continue to push for the use of this technology in future cases. “The Justice Department cannot appeal Magistrate Judge Gauvey’s advisory opinion because it is moot. it also is nonbinding. If the issue arises again and we need the order to enforce a judicial arrest warrant, we will have the opportunity to bring it to another judge and appeal if necessary.”
It is yet to be seen whether or not the U.S. Attorney will be successful in working around Judge Gauvey’s opinion, but others are showing support of her stance. “This opinion is part of a growing consensus that our Fourth Amendment rights protect us from having our location revealed by the GPS chips in our cell phones,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation’s senior staff attorney, Kevin Bankston. “It says that we have a reasonable expectation of privacy that is not limited, just because the phone company has the ability to locate us,” he added.
Article Written by Marisa O’Connor