Canada Clarifies GPS Tracking in Law Enforcement
In the GPS community, everyone is talking about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the guidelines when using GPS in law enforcement. When police secretly tagged a suspected drug dealer’s vehicle with a tracker, then used the resulting data to charge him with a crime, they set in motion a legal battle that has had international effects.
The final verdict states that in order to place a GPS tracking device on an individual’s private property, U.S. officers must first obtain a warrant from a judge. According to the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court justices, attaching a device to an item owned by someone is an unlawful violation of their privacy, unless there is already sufficient evidence of guilt to justify a search warrant. Police departments around the nation will certainly be scrambling to update their policies and ensure that their use of GPS tracking complies with the legal clarification.
Canada’s legal code is actually slightly ahead of the United States in addressing the use of GPS in law enforcement. The law already has a section on tracking, stating clearly that officers must get a special “tracking warrant” before using an electronic device to follow an individual’s movements. It also provides guidelines for the use of those devices. For example, a tracking warrant has a sixty-day lifetime; after which it must be reviewed to determine whether its use is still legal. Police must also show that there is a high probability of gaining evidence by the use of a GPS tracker before the warrant is issued.
The idea of the government using GPS tracking to find out what citizens are up to has, not surprisingly, sparked public debate. Some make the case that if you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t need to be afraid of what police might find out about you. Others, however, are strongly opposed to giving law enforcement the right to watch them without their knowledge. The restriction or expansion of GPS tracker use by law enforcement agencies will likely be unpredictable during the first few years of its widespread availability. The debate is sure to be lively, and will probably include quite a few more legal battles like the one that was recently decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.