No Warrant Required for GPS Tracking

At least, according to a Wisconsin appeals court ruling:

As the law currently stands, the court said police can mount GPS on cars to track people without violating their constitutional rights — even if the drivers aren’t suspects.

Officers do not need to get warrants beforehand because GPS tracking does not involve a search or a seizure, Judge Paul Lundsten wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel based in Madison.

That means “police are seemingly free to secretly track anyone’s public movements with a GPS device,” he wrote.

The court wants the legislature to fix it:

However, the District 4 Court of Appeals said it was “more than a little troubled” by that conclusion and asked Wisconsin lawmakers to regulate GPS use to protect against abuse by police and private individuals.

I think the odds of that happening are approximately zero.

Posted on May 15, 2009 at 6:30 AM69 Comments


john jay May 15, 2009 6:54 AM

So if police don’t need probable cause, or a warrant, or even any cause, then why is this ability to track by GPS even restricted to the police. Can any citizen track any other citizen? Can any citizen track any judge or legislator? Can any officer track any judge or legislator?

Don’t these judges realize that they are also citizens, subject to the same tracking by GPS?

wiredog May 15, 2009 6:57 AM

IIRC, the police (and Feds) don’t need any sort of warrant to covertly trail someone in a public place. How is using GPS different?

bethan May 15, 2009 7:07 AM

Judges just interpret law. It appears that they have interpreted a gap in law regarding lack of privacy via gps tracking.

police don’t need a warrant to stand right next to you and listen to what you say, either – they do need a warrant to use a device to listen to what you say.

and, the last I heard, they also need a warrant to get data from onStar regarding a cars location. I wonder why this is different.

Brian Utterback May 15, 2009 7:18 AM

And now the N.Y. Court of Appeals has ruled that a warrant is necessary. This gives some hope that legislature will be forthcoming to clarify the situation. Let’s just hope it goes the right way.

Robert May 15, 2009 7:20 AM

Also one wonders why the police could not be charged with “damage to property” by affixing such a device to a vehicle. But of course, chargeing the police involves getting the DA to bring charges and, you know…

stevelaudig May 15, 2009 7:41 AM

May not be a search but it is a trespass to property by an unconsented to placing of a device on the car and in a sense is a seizure of a portion of the surface of the vehicle. Additionally the device is “hitching” a ride which is a seizure of the value of the ride and a taking of property without due process. Stupid effing judges. A stoway is a trespasser.

Alpha Prime May 15, 2009 7:46 AM

I would like to have a GPS tracking device…

I wonder how I get the police to provide me a free one. Once they’ve attached it to my car without permission from me or a warrant, its mine. My normal electronics would detect it, so what good would it do them if I left it at home?

Swashbuckler May 15, 2009 7:59 AM

The title of this post is wrong. While it’s true for Wisconsin, it is not true for New York.

“A Watervliet man will get a new trial on burglary charges after the state’s top court ruled Tuesday it was wrong for a police investigator to slap a GPS device on the defendant’s van to track his movements without a search warrant.”

Henning Makholm May 15, 2009 8:00 AM

According to the linked articles, this was not a U.S. District Court (which is the formal term for the federal court system’s first-instance courts), but a state appeals court.

Chris Drost May 15, 2009 8:00 AM


You’re not quite seeing the big picture here. In fact, in the Sveum case in Wisconsin, the police specifically obtained a warrant to place the GPS device, just to be on the safe side.

The requirement of a warrant protects us from something which the police would very much like to do, but (in an ideal world) cannot: to place GPS monitors under every car’s bumper and then correlate the data with crimes. The district court is disturbed precisely because it seems like there’s nothing stopping the police from doing such a thing.

Technology always changes the game that you’re playing, and usually towards the direction of automatic information capture. What was the perfectly reasonable tailing of a probably-guilty man for the sake of obtaining evidence useful to convict him becomes, with technology, the tailing of thousands of probably-innocent men, and possibly for no reason other than “just in case” or “because we wanted to.”

Carlos Gomez May 15, 2009 8:04 AM

Interestingly, the police did in fact obtain a warrant to place the GPS in the case that raised this issue. Tailing a suspect doesn’t require a warrant so a case could be made for this being the same thing. But as with all technology, it really leverages our ability to exceed previous limits. Available manpower would limit the amount of random surveillance in the past. But with a GPS, the data can dumped stored and looked at later if needed.

Anonymous May 15, 2009 8:24 AM

I’ve seen these devices disguised as simple black boxes even in small mopeds here in US, they’re used in case the creditor needs to recover its property.

I bet a lot of other brands have them installed as the mopeds manufactures do

Matt May 15, 2009 8:30 AM

I wonder how this decision will be related to the Supreme Court decision that “Freedom of Association” is also covered by the Constitution. It was a landmark case in the 1960s dealing with the NAACP refusing to turn over their membership records to the police. Would tracking people without a warrant also have the same “chilling effect” on Freedom of Speech?

Don May 15, 2009 8:34 AM

Most of you don’t realize that you’re carrying around a GPS tracker on your belt! Most phones today have GPS chipsets built into them, and those that don’t can be tracked with triangulation with the cell towers (although not as accurate). I’m pretty sure they need a warrant to request the carrier to release the info though. Could this make it easier for them to get the warrant, since they are allowed to track by GPS anyways?

jer May 15, 2009 8:38 AM

“to protect against abuse by police and private individuals.” – I didn’t see this quote in the linked articles, where is that from? It sounds like it would be legal for private individuals to do GPS tracking as well.

Maybe private individuals should start putting GPS trackers on the cars of legislators and police…

kangaroo May 15, 2009 8:38 AM

wiredog: How is using GPS different?

Because it’s so much easier, less expensive and complete. Here lies the underlying failure of the American justice system — a fantasy that equity can be converted into a process. Form always trumps substance.

It’s pretty damn sad.

Trichinosis USA May 15, 2009 8:59 AM

Got Sirius/XMRadio in your car? Well guess what else you’ve got, then… ;-7

WarAtHome May 15, 2009 8:59 AM

Why consider the odds “approximately zero”? The general culture in Wisconsin is very suspicious of authority, particularly when it comes to personal rights and the police. And Madison is the center of that culture.

It is still very common to meet people in Madison who participated in the Vietnam war riots, are proud of that participation and haven’t changed their views significantly. They very clearly remember the police back then, and how, when the new, young, liberal Mayor was elected, the FBI had to
come in to stop the police department from destroying documents.

I am not surprised that the court was “more than a little troubled” nor that it wants the legislature to address the issue.

The court’s decision doesn’t justify authoritarianism, it offers an opinion on constitutionality and instead of stopping there, calls for what it sees as the right process for addressing the specifics, legislation.

Wisconsin has a very strong cultural expectation that government should serve, authority should be questioned, and wrongs should be righted.

I don’t see anything different here.


bill May 15, 2009 10:04 AM

The law cuts both ways. We are free to put GPS trackers on police cars.

I’m surprised they bother, what self-respecting suspect doesn’t carry an active cell phone?

Civil Libertarian May 15, 2009 10:11 AM

If I lived in WI I’d be organizing a project to plant GPS devices on police cars and post their real-time tracking info on the web via Google Maps. 🙂

C May 15, 2009 10:12 AM

Meanwhile, a similar case in New York a similar case cropped up where they decided that it WASN’T right to allow police to GPS track without a warrant.–gpstracking-warra0512may12,0,1643161.story

Granted, the two cases came to a close under completely different circumstances. The Wisconsin one was based on a repeat-stalker case (when I say repeat, I mean the guy did it, got a restraining order, did it again, went to jail for a really long time, got back out and did it again). So basically they still wanted to bag that guy at all costs. But the po-po did get a warrant to do it.

In the NY case, the fuzz didn’t get any warrant AT ALL. Just strait up started tracking a suspect and used that as evidence in a court case. If I’m not mistaken, the NY case wasn’t nearly as high a profile as the WI case. So the courts ruled the evidence out as the police didn’t get a warrant.

HJohn May 15, 2009 10:13 AM

@Civil Libertarian: “If I lived in WI I’d be organizing a project to plant GPS devices on police cars and post their real-time tracking info on the web via Google Maps. :-)”

If you want a law against it passed, probably better to put it on the cars of legislators.

BF Skinner May 15, 2009 10:46 AM

@Bruce “I think the odds of that happening are approximately zero.”

I dunno. Legislatures are frequently pressurable by their citzenry and every legislator realizes s/he’s as much at risk from police abuse as the common people.

Dan Esparza May 15, 2009 11:11 AM

Well, if that’s the case (that it’s not illegal to place the device on a car for tracking purposes without that person’s consent) — then it follows that disabling that device would not be illegal also.

Power to the people.

aikimark May 15, 2009 11:17 AM

hmmmmm…you guys just gave me a great idea for new smartphone apps — CopLoc and LegiLoc.

I imagine there would be a market amongst the local press for a city council version, although that market is dwindling. 🙁

PIs would subscribe in droves.

HJohn May 15, 2009 11:21 AM

@Dan Esparza: “Well, if that’s the case (that it’s not illegal to place the device on a car for tracking purposes without that person’s consent) — then it follows that disabling that device would not be illegal also. ”

If even know it is there.

todd glassey May 15, 2009 11:24 AM

Bruce –
I personally spoke with the Judith Waddel, Judge Lundgren’s Judicial Assistant and informed her that there is a brief I did for an Attorney in DC on why L1 GPS data fails to meet the minimum acceptability issues. She gave me his Clerk’s Email Address and we parted.

In less than five minutes Judith literally called me back to inform me she checked with the Judge and that the Judge had formally refused to take notice of the brief and technology analysis on the reliability of L1 GPS tracking devices, or for that matter the to acknowledge official policy of the DoD as to the L1 System’s reliability.

She informed me that since the Judge was still acting on the matter that he could not accept the external input as ex parte type communications, but I retorted to her that the brief was already in the Defense Attorneys hands and that my stance was that Judges have a Sua Sponte’ responsibility to as Chief Magistrate Judge Paul Grimm say’s of his litigants, ‘To get it right the first time’ meaning that when they put blinders on themselves artificially limiting the Court’s ‘reality’ that they become part of the problem not the answer.

In doing so it is then my argument that the court is intentionally limiting competent professional review of L1 GPS systems so it can continue to break US Law… which is a pretty caustic statement but one which appears to be true.

Lets review the GPS Bug issues…
All GPS bugs today use L1 GPS systems which are very easily spoofed. And to date no US Court has allowed the asking or the correct questions which are

1) Is the L1 GPS data model reliable? If not what exactly are its liabilities?

2) How if voice tracking without a warrant is illegal (i.e. the covert placement of an acoustic bug) is the trespass onto private property to install an external device which is in effect a positional ‘bug’ acceptable.

3) Since the unwarranted placement of the device constitutes an invasion of property rights, the standard is that the device was abandoned when placed on the tracked-party’s car. If this is true then the party being tracked in fact OWNS the BUG and all of the Intellectual Property inside it making the admission of that data to the courts a violation of an individuals 5th amendment rights to testify against oneself.

The claim of the court is that ‘the placement of the device makes surveillance simpler’ but the point of requiring a warrant is to keep surveillance at a place where Court orders are needed to implement it.

The failing of the court’s in my opinion is that they have blocked the answering of the question “does-the-technology-really-work” sniff test which is something no Court has allowed the review of even though Moran (SDNY Court) and others have demanded Daubert hearing’s into the matter.

By the way MANY of these tracking devices are now using crypto-extensions (as I designed in US 6,370,629 a decade ago) to provide a better sense of data integrity – which means they violate my patent’s protections, which also is amusing – the US and State Court’s being actively involved in patent infringement.

Todd S. Glassey CISM CIFI

Mark R May 15, 2009 12:15 PM

Couldn’t it be argued that the act of reviewing the tracking data, even programmatically, is a search of sorts?

Dick Cheney Fan Club May 15, 2009 12:57 PM

Even if it’s not illegal to track people in this way, is there some other way it could be illegal? Placing a device on someone’s car adds weight, costs gas, and the subject can sue for that? Or retrieving the device removes something from the car and is theft because it can be construed as having been given to the subject when it was placed there? Or something like that?

Mimi Yin May 15, 2009 1:37 PM

I think the reasoning here is that GPS tracking is simply “automating” the process of physically trailing someone in a vehicle (which is legal and doesn’t require a warrant.)

However, such analogies inevitably fall apart. For one, GPS devices allow you to “see” into private spaces that would be off-limits to a cop trailing you in an undercover surveillance van.

Secondly, 1 tracking device can out-perform an entire precinct of police officers. As a society, we would feel very differently about giving the police the power to trail individuals without a warrant if there were thousands of surveillance vehicles driving around.

It’s time we face up to the fact that private versus public is no longer about inside versus outside, what you can see versus what you can’t.

With cellular, wireless and satellite networks, everything is potentially in the “public” eye, so as a society, we need to figure out how to draw a different kind of boundary.

PackagedBlue May 15, 2009 2:05 PM

Reduces class action lawsuits, and in a troubled economy, worth it.

Tracking is considerable these days, just like illegal bugging and monitoring.

If this is legal, then weak wrong signal gps injection into your car area, or right by the gps, SHOULD be legal.

Would be an interesting case, cops tag somebody, somebody puts wrong data on the gps.

Am I allowed to smash a cop gps unit on my car, just like removing bird crap on my car?

Seth Breidbart May 15, 2009 2:16 PM

Todd Glassey, the 5th Amendment doesn’t prevent data you own from being used against you, it just means you can’t be required to testify against yourself. Courts have ruled that you have to reveal your encryption key, since the key itself is not incriminating.

If you were a friendly witness for the defense, could they use the patent infringement to show that the use of the tracking device was illegal and therefore all the evidence resulting from its use must be excluded? (That’s much stronger than merely excluding the tracking data itself; if someone is under a court order to stay out of Town and the GPS reveals that his car is their, the police go there and find him; he gets convicted of violating the court order and the tracking data needn’t be used.)

blogster99 May 15, 2009 2:19 PM


Isnt this the same as saying… If we could secretly inject you with a micro-dot to track your whereabouts, we would do that too? Whats the difference?

AppSec May 15, 2009 2:40 PM

You want to know the truth.. I’m all for it..

Can you just imagine what would happen if all these people were arrested, ticketed, etc and then it came out that these devices were unreliable. Or if the storage of the data got corrupted (I’m still trying to fathom the disk space that would be required to maintain this information, but that’s another story — after all, how else do you prove you had a GPS on them without a warrant?). What about access controls to the data? (kind of like how police now have to document evidence). This isn’t something that is a device pointed and read – there is network traffic and signals that are getting transmitted to devices.

I am reminded of an incident that happened in Baltimore when after a baseball game thousands of cars were ticketed for running red lights… See, they forgot to turn those cameras off and there were police officers directing traffic.

Sometimes I think people treat the police using technology like the DHS thinks of terrorists — I think we use “corruption theater”.

Jess May 15, 2009 3:56 PM

@Todd S. Glassey CISM CIFI:

I’m not going to read patent 6,370,629, since the legal advice I’ve received is to never read any patent, but is it anything other than crypto signatures applied to timestamps? Do you have any plans to enforce such a patent?

David May 15, 2009 4:55 PM

I have a “Minority Report/Terminator 2” style film script idea that I’d be willing to pitch involving a guy running around Los Angeles an accused baby rapist with a bunch of RFID tags stuck in his belongings. The whole modern world is on a tether these days, it’s really only the dramatic test cases that come up in law that make us recognize the implications of convenience. I’m sure convenience will continue to win. “I for one…, etc.”

Anonymous May 15, 2009 7:25 PM

Did I read this correctly “As the law currently stands, the court said police can mount GPS on cars…..”

What does mount GPS on a car imply? Surely drilling holes, perforating the rust preventing undercoat or other physical modification to enable the mounting would be trespass and malicious damage. Should I scratch the paint on a car on purpose I could be prosecuted.

And for sure if I saw someone crawl under a car to attach a “black box” I would call the bomb squad, department of homeland security and FBI ASAP.

Dave C. May 15, 2009 7:35 PM

Of course, even if Wisconsin passes a state law to outlaw this behavior this affects state police and not the Feds. Furthermore, the Feds will likely be able to collect the information and hand off back to state police for state prosecution.

Dave C. May 15, 2009 7:41 PM

“Surely drilling holes, perforating the rust preventing undercoat or other physical modification to enable the mounting would be trespass and malicious damage.”

The main remedy against police abuse is suppression of evidence, not monetary damages. Police are generally immune to civil and criminal lawsuits. If police damage your car, you won’t get anything back unless it was truly excessive.

Wiskers in PaloAlto May 15, 2009 7:46 PM

My… why restrict this to a GPS. It sounds like this ruling would permit the attachment of a clear plastic RFID tag on any vehicle the parking enforcement department might want to track. Then driving past with a GPS equipped enforcement vehicle each RFID can be logged in space and time and quickly ticketed. The gosh darn things are so inexpensive that they might compete with the old chalk on a stick.

Billy May 15, 2009 8:47 PM

Clearly. Someone needs to do a live google earth mashup of all police cars, using cheap, magnetically attached GPSes. As public servants, they actually DON’T have any expectation of privacy.

David May 15, 2009 8:50 PM

Yeah, but everything we carry these days is so laden with unique identifiers that there would be no point in legislating the specific use of a specific technology. We carry all sorts of devices with MAC addresses, SSIDs, radio transmitters, and even the pants you picked up at Nordstrom’s in your trunk are uniquely identifiable. Not to mention the all of the passive reflecting devices we all carry around. It’s not at all difficult to come up with a scheme to identify a person by the many different data signatures that they arbitrarily collect and pass around in almost any context, at least one that’s good enough for surveillance when there’s also a human around to interpret the data.

The legal problem is the human factor. Anything that’s legal for the responsible authorities to do is really enormously simple for the irresponsible ones, not to mention criminals, to do well.

The technologies move too fast to try to, well what’s in effect making a blacklist of everything you shouldn’t do with this or that gizmo. It’s the human question of what is done with that data that’s legal or not. Arguing that it’s illegal for a cop to tamper with your property in order to install a monitoring device without a warrant is a fish shoot in a barrel. But what if they don’t have to do that in order to get the same results? (And they really shouldn’t have to)

blow my mind May 15, 2009 11:55 PM

not covered by most press:

tracking of people

excluding cellphones and other common items purchased and carried by the consumer, what items are used?

methods similar to tactics used by stasi? (spraying the marc with some type of liquid which can be read at a distance, with which to maintain a constant connection surviving wash/dry cycles whereas other methods using chips/tags could become damaged or lost?)

the possibility exists for the individual to discover a known foreign addition on their vehicle, but what of the unknown methods?

Clive Robinson May 16, 2009 12:56 AM

With regards to,

“All GPS bugs today use L1 GPS systems which are very easily spoofed.”

All Global Positioning systems currently in use are “broadcast systems”, that is the receiver is passive listener and not active participant.

All pasive receive only systems can be spoofed via replay attacks of one kind or another.

To prevent this you need another “side channel” or an active system such that in the case of GP systems the time related information between the receiver it’s self and the sats can be reliably checked (anybody got a ceasium clock going cheap?).

There are other position fixing systems (epirb etc) that do not have this particular weakness because they are active systems (and also unfortunatly effectivly work the other way around but that is another issue).

So why can GP systems be spoofed.

The first question to ask yourself is,

What does the position indicated by the reciever actually mean?

Well assuming it’s not being spoofed it tells you the position of the antenna not the reciever.

Which gives rise to the next question which is,

How far away from the receiver can the antenna be used?

The answer to which is its not related directly to distance but to signal loss in the “cable” and gain at the antenna.

For instance there are a number of GPS patch antennas on the market that have in built low noise amplifiers (this sort of arangment is often called a “head end”). And in the case of some, significant lengths of anrenna cable are included (I’ve got one in my workshop that works through a hundred meter drum of low loss cable without any problems).

Therefore the answer simplisticaly becomes,

Distance = head end gain /cable loss per meter

Which means it could be a couple of hundred meters of cable without to much difficulty.

But what happens if you replace the cable with another transmission medium such as an broadcast repeater?

Well the same figures apply, that is the gain of the head end expressed as path loss distance.

You could in theory or practice use an uplink and downlink system via an aircraft or satalite (think early transponders).

Which kind of makes the distance getting on for “anywhere” within the radio horizon distance…

So you have the GP system receiver in position A showing the effective antenna position B.

But position B is via a very long transmission path so the GP system receiver is telling the operator information that is easily mis-understood which is the definition of being spoofed…

There like trying to be heard in a noisy crowd there are some practical difficulties but they are not particularly technicaly difficult or expensive to over come.

Which leaves the last question of,

Why would anybody bother to do it…

In my case, using 10GHz transponders it was to prove a point that a second secure active channel was required.

For others who knows…

Remember position information can be either almost worthless or considerably more than the weight of a person in gold, and easily worth their life.

GP systems are used in weapons delivery systems in one way or another. For instance if you can make a bunch of attacking grunts on the ground attacking you position think they are a hundred meters further away than they realy are when they report their position to call down fire upon you they could be in for a blue on blue…

However the fact that it can be done fairly cheaply and easily does not mean it is being done to you.

Anonymous May 16, 2009 1:51 AM

@ Alpha Prime,

Although I like the idea of,

“I wonder how I get the police to provide me a free one. Once they’ve attached it to my car without permission from me or a warrant, its mine.”

You have not quite considered all angles with,

“My normal electronics would detect it,”

Have you heard of an “infinity bug” or “ET bug”?

Neither transmits continuously so the window of oportunity of detecting them is reduced.

In 99% of cases the police or toll authorities do not need to know where you currently are only where you have been and when.

If you look at the NEMA data format you will see it can easily fit in an SMS message.

It is therfore not overly difficult to make your GPS Bug from a mobile phone with a nice big SD card in it. A small helper aplication running in the back ground reads the GPS position every so often, if the reading to reading delta is small very little data needs to be stored and the storage intivals can be large. With a little further cleverness a 16GByte SD card could store even a years worth of even a fairly active persons movments…

And like ET it could “phone home” when the position went out of pre defined areas etc…

Or like an infinity bug make the data available when the authorities call the phone…

I doubt that most of your “normal electronics” realy “would detect it,”. Yes there are ways to detect these things via their energy signitures but high sensitivity IR cameras and electrostatic anomaly detectors are not what most would consider “normal electronics”.

However your last point,

“so what good would it do them if I left it at home?”

Is well known to young teenage criminals in London who swap phones, cloths, travel cards etc with other gang members as a mater of everyday behaviour…

Then when they are “doing a job” they make sure they do not have any of the “gang members” items on them. The rest of the gang however take the “electronic ghost” of the offenders on a night out to MacD’s etc past one or two street CCTV cameras as a tight crowd with their hoods up and heads down “shuffeling and a shambaling”.

The joy of all the electronic tracking systems is they are but “ghosts” of the real person and only track the devices. I predict that “out of body” travel for these “electronic ghosts” is going to happen more and more as time goes on.

All Elint is a two edged sword that “cuts both ways” and needs good on the ground Humint to “keep it honest”.

aikimark May 16, 2009 6:41 AM

I’m surprised that no one has raised the point that the GPS is tracking the car and not the driver. It would only take one (or a few) instances of the driver being in a different place than the car to invalidate the GPS evidence in court.

Jim A May 16, 2009 7:40 AM

If this is true then the party being tracked in fact OWNS the BUG and all of the Intellectual Property inside it making the admission of that data to the courts a violation of an individuals 5th amendment rights to testify against oneself.

Certainly right in the first part IMHO. However I don’t think that the GPS data passes the Feist creativity bar to be copyrightable. I suppose it could be a trade secret. Either way it could be suppeanable after the fact.

Sean May 16, 2009 2:03 PM

My experience in the aviation industry says that GPS signals are very easy to jam. When it first was being adopted, we had to apply all sorts of notch filters with certain equipment to keep the spurs from trashing what essentially is pseudo-random noise being received below the noise threshold. Pop in a little of your own pseudo-random noise and it probably won’t lock.

Clive Robinson May 16, 2009 5:42 PM

@ aikimark,

“I’m surprised that no one has raised the point that the GPS is tracking the car and not the driver.”

Try reading the post immediatly above yours where it talks about “electronic ghosts”.

And the post above that where it points out what it is actually tracking is the position of the “effective antenna” the GPS receiver is using not the receiver, which can be some considerable distance away.

With regards to,

“It would only take one (or a few) instances of the driver being in a different place than the car to invalidate the GPS evidence in court.”

That is upto “m’learned friends” if they currently chose to ignore the fact that there is verifyable and authorative documentation that GPS can not only be jammed but spoofed then “it ai’nt gon’a hapen in my life time”…

The simple fact is that criminals of all levels have known for years that electronic intel on them can easily be misdirected. You can easily arange for someone to impersonate you for the night if they vaguly look like you and you give them your Chip-n-Pin card and number and just tell them to have a modestly good time in some place where CCTV etc is low and to far away from where you are planning to “commit your own personal crime”. Also give them your mobile phone to text with etc about what they are doing…

As Yoda might have said,
“Science of rockets it not be”…

Clive Robinson May 16, 2009 5:47 PM

One thought,

If the police did not require a warrant but went ahead and obtained one anyway, have they not set a precident by which their future actions can be judged?

Stephanie May 16, 2009 11:34 PM

I wish this were science fiction, it is not. They did it to me. Mr Schneier is absolutely right about the dangers of privatization of police powers.

Stephan Engberg May 18, 2009 10:41 AM

The relevant issue here is to remember that GPS is actually a privacy enhancing technology.

There is no invasive element in your devices to discover where they are to provide services to you.

The invasive and security destructive element occur when they start leaking tracking information and position to others.

Stephan Engberg May 18, 2009 10:44 AM

Having said that GPS is a privacy enhancing technology, the court descision only makes it so more to the point that the difference between democracy and its opposite are so very fragile.

When we start monopolising violance to protect us from the concentration of power – the differences between the system working for us and against us is so very thin.

Anonymous May 18, 2009 12:29 PM

Some have said track the cops, the legislators, all good ideas.

I say track the judge that made the ruling.

Anonymous May 19, 2009 1:04 PM

Actually, I’m not sure the fifth amendment doesn’t protect you encryption key. The case I’ve heard cited to show it doesn’t protect your key dealt with someone crossing the border, and illegal data being found on his laptop. Laptop was confiscated, shut down, later, they couldn’t find the data (the encrypted volume dismounted, or something along those lines). The suspect refused to give his encryption key, court ruled he has to.

There is a distinction between this and zero protection by the fifth amendment.

MD May 22, 2009 2:31 PM

Ok, all the privacy rights and such aside. Say a police officer does place a GPS on a vehicle for the purpose of tracking them. They are doing it for a reason. All of the back end technology is auditable. So if they are doing it for something other then in the scope a proper investigation,they run the risk of being punished for it. A lot of these arguments assume that all cops are corrupt and never do the right thing. This has nothing to do with private people putting devices on peoples cars. It’s two different things. Police have a legitimate reason to track people (even if it’s abused). What reason would a private person have to track another persons movement?

Clive Robinson May 22, 2009 3:53 PM

@ MD,

Not sure where you live but I’m guessing it’s not the UK.

I’ll go through your salient points,

“They are doing it for a reason.”

Yes they have been told to by senior officers who have set “policy”. And as has been seen recently with the House of Commons Speaker Mr Martin the police are prepared to use draconian measures illegaly on oposition MPs just to save the blushes of a Government Minister. Who it now turns out was on the fiddle over expenses to such a degree it amounted to the anual wages of several ordinary workers in the UK…

“All of the back end technology is auditable.”

Yes but only if those in more senior positions chose to do so, invariably they do not, as it would audit their atrocious behaviour as well.

“So if they are doing it for something other then in the scope a proper investigation,”

This is the crux of the problem in the UK what is a “proper investigation”. The simple fact that a senior officer sets a policy does not make it either right or legal.

Please remember at the end of the Second World War we had a load of soldiers claiming that the atrocities they committed where because “they where acting under orders”, and the courts said that was unreasonable and unacceptable. Well here we are just a little over sixty years later and we have police officers bleating the same old discredited line.

“they run the risk of being punished for it.”

Very unlikley we have had the most senior police officers in the land involved right up to the eyeballs in illegal survalence not just on peacfull protestors but on colourd and ethnic minority police officers in their own ranks. Do we see them being punished no not at all they simply get the cheque book out and pay damages out of the UK tax payers pocket. When those that have suffered drag them through the law courts.

“A lot of these arguments assume that all cops are corrupt”

When you see the most senior police officers in the land (look at the ACPO members list and search on google for their nefarious activities) acting in illegal and corupt ways and encoraging those junior to them to “aid and abet” then please forgive ordinary members of the public that pay the wages of these “crooks in blue” for tarring all those in the organisation they control with the same brush.

“and never do the right thing.”

Well the only way those at the bottom can do the right thing is to get out and resort to taking action through the law courts.

The senior officers however can string the actions out hide evidence, suspend wages and pensions and as we have seen (and are about to see a lot more of) use every underhanded and illegal method they can to discredit those who “step out of line”.

I hope where ever you live your local police force is honest upright and dedicated to serving the community, because they sure a’int in the UK.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.