The Honorable Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN):
This week, the United States Senate will vote on a spending package to fund the federal government for the remainder of this fiscal year. The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 is a sprawling, $410 billion compilation of nine spending measures that lacks the slightest hint of austerity from the federal government or the recipients of its largess.
The Senate should reject this bill. If we do not, President Barack Obama should veto it.
Read it all.
With the subject coming up about taxing people based on the mileage they drive as opposed to the gas they buy and the casual dismissal of the privacy concerns with the suggestion the government track us all via GPS, I thought it prudent to point out this story, titled, “Police use of warrantless GPS tracking challenged.”
Dan Prywes, the lawyer who filed the brief on behalf of the ACLU, said such satellite technology makes it all too easy for police to engage in Big Brother-type surveillance unless the courts rein them in.
“Most people are aghast at the notion that police – without any showing of probable cause – could track them wherever they go by using an electronic eye in the sky,” said Prywes, an attorney with the Bryan Cave law firm, which worked on the case on a pro bono basis.
Jones’ trial lawyers also tried to have the tracking evidence tossed out of court, but U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle allowed the jury to hear it.
Prosecutors argue that GPS tracking is no different than physical surveillance conducted by police.
“Because Jones lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the whereabouts of his vehicle, the placement of the GPS device was proper, even in the complete absence of a court order,” prosecutors wrote in their legal briefs dating to 2006.
So, the gist of this is that the police suspected someone of doing something illegal and, without court authorization of any kind, attached a GPS transponder to their vehicle so they could track their every move. Based upon this revelation, you might have one of these on your car right this second.
I realize the case in question regards a cocaine dealer caught in his crimes in part by the information obtained from the GPS track. I have no problem with this guy getting the entire set of books thrown at him. The problem I have is a simple one: you can’t go around searching this guy’s car, searching his house, or tapping his phone without a warrant. They attached a device to his private property without his consent and without a judge signing off on it. (I strongly suspect they did so because they knew they didn’t have enough to go to a judge to get one.)
They’re arguing that this is no different than physical surveillance but I don’t think it’s the same at all. First, would they have been able to walk up to his house and bolt on a device that registers whenever someone enters or leaves the premises? That’s just like physical surveillance, too, but I can’t see them getting away with that. Just because this particular piece of private property happens to be mobile isn’t a reason to dispense with due process.
Second, the GPS transponder allows them to track his car regardless of whether it’s on public property and in full view or on private property and completely hidden from normal observation. Even if I were to grant that they have the right to track his car in this fashion on public roads – and I don’t concede that, by the way – they certainly cannot make the “it’s just like physical surveillance” argument when the car drives onto private property and disappears around the corner of a building. The police are continuing to track the vehicle’s movements even then and this argument holds no water in such a situation.
No, if they want to track a person’s car from orbit they’ve got to have probable cause. The judge of whether they do or not is, well… a judge. They should have to have a warrant to do this.