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Court Rules Warrant Required for GPS Tracking
Court Rules Warrant Required for GPS Tracking

By Seth Fitzgerald
October 23, 2013 11:46AM

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Without a warrant, police installed a GPS tracking device on the car of brothers suspected in a string of pharmacy burglaries. The police tracked the car to a recently burglarized RiteAid, stopped the brothers' vehicle shortly afterward and conducted a search that allegedly revealed stolen pharmacy items. The court ruled warrantless use of GPS is unconstitutional.
 

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With U.S. citizens concerned about the National Security Agency revelations, good news has come, in as a federal appeals court ruled that police must obtain warrants for GPS tracking. Although the court made its decision in a case involving local police, the same data for the police could end up in the hands of the NSA or other federal agencies.

This ruling has been in the works for nearly a year in the case of United States v. Katzin, as well as the United States v. Jones case in which a convicted drug dealer's car was tracked. At that time, a U.S. District Court ruled that the installation of a GPS tracking device was equivalent to a search and would be treated as such, requiring a warrant.

Finally An Answer

The government appealed, and Tuesday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District, based in Philadelphia, agreed with the lower court that the installation of a tracking device would be considered a search under the Fourth Amendment and requires that a court first issue a search warrant.

"Today's decision is a victory for all Americans because it ensures that the police cannot use powerful tracking technology without court supervision and a good reason to believe it will turn up evidence of wrongdoing," said attorney Catherine Crump of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement. "These protections are important because where people go reveals a great deal about them, from who their friends are, where they visit the doctor and where they choose to worship."

Longstanding Case

Although the case involving the drug dealer was considered, the appellate court was ruling in United States v. Katzin. Police suspected the Katzin brothers were involved in a string of pharmacy burglaries in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Without a warrant, the police installed a GPS tracking device on their car and began to build a case based on the data collected from it. The police tracked the car to a recently burglarized RiteAid, stopped the brothers' vehicle shortly afterward and conducted a search that allegedly revealed some of the stolen pharmacy items.

The brothers argued that since the police had failed to obtain a warrant when conducting the search (which was made possible by the GPS), any evidence found in the car could not be used against them.

A District Court judge agreed with the Katzin brothers'. The three-judge appellate panel affirmed that ruling.
 

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