Thursday, May 24, 2012

GPS Tracking is Still Illegal. Should It Be?

Legal issues with what is allowable spatial tracking will likely become major issues for scholars/developers/planners who want to use GPS data for their work. We focus a lot on legal issues of data ownership but the Fourth Amendment may prevent many applications. This case was decided partly on the SCOTUS' ruling from January ruling about GPS tracking. it's too early to know how this will all play out but it is worth keeping an eye on. From the story:
"In this case, the DEA agents had their fishing poles out to catch Lee," Thapar wrote. "Admittedly, the agents did not intend to break the law. But, they installed a GPS device on Lee's car without a warrant in the hope that something might turn up." 
 ...
The U.S. Supreme Court in January struck down law enforcement's use of GPS tracking in investigations without a warrant. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the 5-member majority that it was the attachment of the device that violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. That case involved a GPS placed on the Jeep of suspected Washington, D.C., drug kingpin Antoine Jones. The ruling overturned Jones' conviction and life sentence.
Lee's attorney, Michael Murphy of Lexington, said the only evidence against Lee was the marijuana found in the truck. Murphy said he based his argument in part on the Jones case.
"If they are going to be that intrusive on our lives, they should do it under the supervision of a court," said Murphy, a former federal prosecutor.
Obviously these cases are drug related, but if the argument is that the state cannot track people without a warrant there will likely be challenges to other public uses of tracking data. We know there are limits to when taxi cab GPS data can be collected, such as only when the meter is on. This limits research on interesting and important questions about what cruising taxi cabs do between fares. Hopefully mutually beneficial solutions can be negotiated before our data rich future gets swamped in litigation.
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