Warranting Suspicion

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The news media buzzes over the actions and allegations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and the ongoing fear that “Big Brother” is watching us. Or at least watching us a little too closely for most people, even law abiding citizens, to swallow. A recent Massachusetts Supreme Court decision gave citizens (at least in Massachusetts) a larger list of boundaries for GPS tracking by the government.

How the Government Uses GPS Tracking

GPS tracking can be used by people for all kinds of purposes, from finding your stolen car to mapping out your route to the mall. The problem with governments using them is that they really have no business knowing our exact whereabouts each and every day. Law enforcement officers need to obtain a warrant in order to plant a GPS tracking device on your vehicle. If they don’t obtain a warrant, they might not be able to use the evidence collected as a result of illegally using a GPS tracking device. However, once the proper warrants are obtained, where you go in your car says a lot about what kinds of things you do. 

The Massachusetts Decision

The US Supreme Court decided in United States v. Jones that law enforcement may not track the movement of cars via GPS without a warrant. In a recent appeal decision for the Massachusetts Supreme Court, it was decided that even when a warrant is issued to track a car with GPS, it does not give permission to track the whereabouts of a passenger in that car. Fortunately, in the case just mentioned, there was plenty of other evidence to convict, but this does effectively put more restrictions on the use of GPS monitoring by law enforcement.

What this Means for Law Enforcement

Law enforcement is greatly aided by GPS tracking. If done correctly, a suspect or other person of interest can be tracked once the proper warrant is obtained. This might make it harder to obtain warrants in the future, but it should also provide opportunities to get create a more focused watch over certain vehicles. 

Although nobody likes to be watched, GPS tracking for suspected criminals is a great tool for law enforcement to have. As long as law enforcement know the rules, this should eliminate the dismissal of evidence due to not following procedure. Of course, the best way to make any kind of GPS tracking a moot point is to not arouse suspicion in the first place.

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Edmond Donaldson

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