Police Use of GPS Without a Warrant Ruled Illegal by Federal Court

Last year, I blogged about the ruling of the New York State Court of Appeals that found New York State Police had violated a criminal suspect's rights under the New York State Constitution when it placed a GPS tracking device inside the bumper of his van without obtaining a warrant. The court ruled that the using a GPS tracking device was an illegal search.

I also noted that the Wisconsin State District 4 Court of Appeals, however, ruled  that police there can mount GPS on cars to track people without violating their state constitutional rights -- even if the drivers aren't suspects. The rationale given was because GPS tracking does not involve a search or a seizure, police don't have to obtain search warrants, the story says.

Now comes word in the Wall Street Journal that the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled that placing a GPS device inside a car without a warrant violates a person's Fourth Constitutional Amendment protection against unreasonable searches.

The Wall Street Journal says that, "The thrust of the ruling concerns one’s privacy expectation. A person traveling on a public road may expect to be seen at some point along the way, but probably doesn't expect to be randomly spotted in every activity for a month."

I wonder if this ruling excludes the police using mobile license plate trackers to track a suspect as well?

Maryland, for example, announced that it is going to create a statewide network to collect data from automatic license plate readers. According the press release last week, Maryland will soon have 205 license plate readers in operation, many of them mobile. They will be all be tied into a central database to provide real-time information to Maryland police.

According to this blog post at The Muckrakers Blog, the license plate readers provide the plate number, time and GPS location of the vehicle spotted.

I am not a lawyer, but does the availability of such a statewide network of license plate readers mean that a Maryland state resident does not have an expectation of privacy when traveling around the state?

And as these systems become more widespread across the US, does the public's expectation of privacy disappear completely too?

It pretty much has in the UK, where there are some 4,000 such readers in use that examine 10 million vehicle plates per day, according to this story on the Homeland Security News Wire.

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