GPS Goes to Court

R. A. Hettinga rah at
Mon Feb 16 10:03:12 PST 2004


Technology Review  

GPS Goes to Court ?
In what is a first of a kind ruling in the nation, the Washington State
Supreme Court declared Thursday that police may not attach a Global
Positioning System tracker to a suspect's car without getting a warrant.

 "Use of GPS tracking devices is a particularly intrusive method of
surveillance, making it possible to acquire an enormous amount of personal
information about the citizen under circumstances where the individual is
unaware that every single vehicle trip taken and the duration of every
single stop may be recorded by the government," Justice Barbara Madsen
wrote in the unanimous decision.

A spokesperson for the Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties
Union compared the use of GPS trackers in law enforcement to "placing an
invisible police officer in a person's back seat."

Meanwhile, USA Today has an article (not in the online edition) about the
use of GPS tracker data as evidence in the Scott Peterson case. Apparently,
the Modesto police used GPS trackers to monitor the suspect's movements for
four months before his arrest. Peterson's defense attorney wants the
evidence tossed out. One of their tactics is to question the motives of the
experts who are defending the accuracy of such information, claiming that
they are self-interested: "I assume you want the judge to rule that this
evidence is admissible so you can sell more GPS receivers." Here, the
dispute centers less around the constitutionality of its deployment than on
its reliability, resulting in a war of competing experts.

This is a fascinating example of the negotiation process by which a society
-- or in this case, the courts -- adjusts to the potentials of a new
technology. Whether it gets adopted or not depends on how it passes these
various legal challenges.
posted by Henry Jenkins @ 2/13/2004 3:05:27 PM |  Comments (4) |
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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