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Can Police Really Put a GPS Tracker on my Car?

Posted by Brian Tillman on 8 December 2011

And from the outset here, I want to clarify that I’m talking about without a warrant- no probable cause at all, just wanna see what you’re up to. So if you’ve got nothing to hide then why would you care? Seriously, it’s not even on the inside, you’ll never even know it was there…

If you live in the western US (CA, NV, HI, OR, WA, ID, AK, MT or AZ) then you are fair game, according to your laws. Last year the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was not illegal for DEA agents to enter Juan Pineda-Moreno’s driveway to install a GPS tracking device on his vehicle, despite not seeking a court’s permission to get a warrant. They then tracked his Jeep’s movements over several days and linked him to a marijuana grow, for which he was convicted. CNN covered it here.

On the other hand, if you live on the east coast, it’s a different story. Washington D.C. Nightclub owner Antoine Jones had a GPS tracker installed on his Jeep by FBI and DC Police. Hewas monitored for a month, and followed into Maryland where police found large amounts of cocaine and cash. The federal appeals court for the DC circuit ruled that the GPS tracker in that case was NOT permissible, and reversed thedecision of the trial court (who had sentenced him to life in prison).

When there is a split between circuits on an issue (federal appeals courtsgiving opposite answers for an issue) the ultimate answer lies with theUnited StatesSupremeCourt, should they acceptit. In this case, the Jones case from DC was picked up by the Supremes. The case was argued recently before the Supreme Court, and a ruling is expected in Spring of 2012 toclarify the law for the rest of the nation. CNNcovered the case in an article here.

The case balances some heavy issues. On the one side, it’s not all that different from an investigator just following someone around for several days and keeping an eye on them to see what they’re up to. No probable cause or warrant is needed to do that, but many people feel differently about having a GPS tracker (or anything else) put on their car without their knowledge or permission. It’s bad enough that anyone can head down to a store and buy a GPS tracker to follow whomever they wish, but it feels worse when it’s the government. In the meantime, you might want to go to Spy Exchange (or your local spy shop) and pick up a bug finder or scrambling device, which they also sell to combat the tracker. Never hurts to hedge that bet by covering both sides.

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