January 13, 2005

Acceptable Search?

I have no objection to private use of GPS technology to track company vehicles, for geocaching, tracking your teenager's driving, backtracking your hiking trail, etc., as long as everyone know whats happening. Unmonitored use by law enforcement employees is not acceptable:

When Robert Moran drove back to his law offices in Rome, N.Y., after a plane trip to Arizona in July 2003, he had no idea that a silent stowaway was aboard his vehicle: a secret GPS bug implanted without a court order by state police.

Police suspected the lawyer of ties to a local Hells Angels Motorcycle Club that was selling methamphetamine, and they feared undercover officers would not be able to infiltrate the notoriously tight-knit group, which has hazing rituals that involve criminal activities. So investigators stuck a GPS, or Global Positioning System, bug on Moran's car, watched his movements, and arrested him on drug charges a month later.

A federal judge in New York ruled last week that police did not need court authorization when tracking Moran from afar. "Law enforcement personnel could have conducted a visual surveillance of the vehicle as it traveled on the public highways," U.S. District Judge David Hurd wrote. "Moran had no expectation of privacy in the whereabouts of his vehicle on a public roadway."

Well, I say BS to Judge Hurd.

Why shouldn't I or Moran have an expectation of privacy? Especially from public employees. And even more importantly as we move through public spaces which we must do to carry on the basic activities of being human.

Given the rapidly changing tools available to capture information about individuals or groups it is time to expand our view of what is considered acceptable search and surveillance practices. If law enforcement folks are not in hot pursuit of someone who just committed a legitimate1 crime then they should be required to have probable cause approved by an independent judiciary before they are allowed to investigate, let alone surveil, any individual or group for any reason. This should apply whether that individual or group is acting in traditionally private spaces or in what are considered public spaces.

1For the purpose of this post I ignore the question of whether methamphetamine sales is a legitimate crime.

Via Declan McCullagh.

Posted by Steve on January 13, 2005
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