Is Warrantless GPS Tracking Legal?

Friday, October 08, 2010


If the police want to search your house, they need a warrant. If they want to follow you around in an unmarked car, they don't. But what about GPS technology? It's highly accurate, virtually effortless and law enforcement are using it like never before. But the courts are divided on the legality of GPS and the issue seems destined for the Supreme Court. Law professor Orin Kerr explains.

Comments [10]

Sandy Hamilton from Fairbanks, Alaska

The govt wants to install a gps tracker in my aircraft to monitor my position at all times. I don't have a problem with this except they are also using it as a tool to make sure I don't violate any of their regulations. They also allow unlimited viewing to anyone to obtain this information to use for what ever. I do a lot of govt contracts and my information can be data mined by other companies to bid on the contract when it comes up for review.
I say this is a violation of my rights. My question is it a violation of my rights?

Oct. 17 2010 07:22 PM
Chelsea Brigham from Pueblo, CO

This is a controversial issue because the fourth amendment has protected Americans' rights to privacy, and this GPS warrantless tracker, challenges that protection. While the action of embedding the tracker may be justified by the suspicion to a certain individual's case, America has been persistent in the argument that no man is guilty until proven guilty, and without an appropriate search warrant, it is a violation of our guaranteed rights as citizens to make an attempt to obtain that information. At the end of the podcast, they asked if it is possible for Congress to put a detailed law against this kind of action, and the answer is yes. However, since this is a controversial issue, it will take some time to come to an agreement over an issue of privacy. Because FBI protects us, but when does that protection go to far?

Chelsea Brigham

Oct. 15 2010 04:16 PM
Rich Brown

So -- if tracking that goes into a person's house is unconstitutional, does a person who parks in an attached garage have more rights than I do?

Oct. 14 2010 12:55 PM
Cyndi Melin from usa

So Erica what is a serious crime in your book? Who determines which crime is worthy of having the person's rights violated? This week it is being convicted of battery next week it is a conviction for smoking marijuana. (In some states it is a very serious crime)

You say it may "seem" like it is violating laws - it "is" breaking the law Erica. Also not everyone that is CONVICTED is GUILTY.

It is a slippery slope Erica. Sometimes in order to "feel" safe you end up the one locked up.

Oct. 14 2010 12:45 PM
Erica Parsons

I believe that GPS tracking should be legal in some serious circumstances. If someone who is convicted of a serious crime gets put on parole, then the authorities should be able to know where they are at all times regardless of violating their privacy. The way I see it, it's that felon's fault for putting themselves in that situation.

Oct. 13 2010 10:39 PM
Erica Parsons

I believe that it should be legal in some circumstances. I think that once a person who is convicted of a serious crime should have a GPS installed on their car or on their ankle. It's important to know where they are because they could do another serious act of crime, and the police will be notified immediately and will always know where their next step is. Keeping control of these people may seem like it is violating laws, but in reality it will keep us all safer, which to me is a lot more important than making sure someone's privacy is being violated.

Oct. 13 2010 10:36 PM
Matt A. from Pueblo Colorado

The Supreme Court's ruling in the 1980's makes this legal...not right. This is a new age in witch new laws and guide lines are required.

What once used man power and radio waves now takes a satellite and GPS tracker. Quick, efficient, and relatively inexpensive...the American way. So the FBI tip toed around the law to put a tracker on a weed grower and random Arabs car. Are you surprised? Im not, this is about as surprising as a public mens room smelling like $#!+.

My favorite part was the FBI asking for the GPS tracker back. Just imagine that phone call, "ummm can we please have our tracker back, our boss has really been riding our @$$'s. That thing wasn't cheap."

Since Title II of the Patirot Act ("Enhanced Suervillance Procedures") was put in place, American's rights have gone out the window. I don't grow weed and sure as $#! am not a terrorist, but this still bothers me. What does this chipping away of rights mean for the future? Chip away at a rock long enougth it will crumble. Im not here to make waves, just to give a little guidence...Watch what you do, say, or write. Big Brother is watching.

Oct. 12 2010 06:16 PM
Sarah from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY

I'm more interested in the notion that it's somehow okay for the FBI to, in effect, enter the car -- even if it's in the driveway (is that right?). How is that not the same as searching someone's home without a warrant?

Oct. 11 2010 11:12 AM
Matt Ruby from New York City

I sat in frustration listening to you try and parse the 4th amendment relative to GPS tracking a car versus the traditional gumshoe of tailing someone. Was not the focus of the story that a GPS device had been put on the suspects CAR?? not the person?? Is the car on trial or the person?
If a suspect is followed, or “tailed”, presumably a person is observing a person. How did you miss the distinction between this, and an electronic device tracking a car, with no actual knowledge of who was in the car?
Thank you
Matt Ruby

Oct. 10 2010 10:44 AM
Stephen Shandor from Philadelphia, PA

It is not clear to me exactly how this story on the use of GPS devices to track the movements of "persons of interest" falls within the "On the Media" remit. There are certainly important legal and other precedents at stake here, but is GPS somehow connected to broadcasting or the publishing industry in a way that I am not seeing? Will you soon be doing stories on stem-cell research or the micro-loan industry in Bangladesh? Those topics are about as connected to the "media" as GPS.

I mention this, because I feel there has been a bit of "scope-creep" in the show recently. The Guardian has two separate podcasts -- Tech Weekly and Media Talk -- and while there is some overlap from time to time, the hosts generally stay on their side of the fence with respect to their topics covered. Maybe it's time for "On Technology" to supplement "On The Media"?

Oct. 09 2010 09:12 AM

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