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Entries in GPS Monitoring (5)

Wednesday
Mar072012

FBI Turns Off 3,000 GPS Devices Following Supreme Court Ruling

iStockphot​o/Thinksto​ck(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. Supreme Court decision prompted the FBI to turn off nearly 3,000 Global Positioning System (GPS) devices used to track suspects, according to the agency’s general counsel.

When the decision–U.S. v. Jones–was released at the end of January, agents were ordered to stop using GPS devices immediately and told to await guidance on retrieving the devices, FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann said in a recent talk at a University of San Francisco conference.  Weissmann said the court’s ruling lacked clarity and the agency needs new guidance or it risks having cases overturned.

The Jones case stemmed from the conviction of night club owner Antoine Jones on drug charges. Law enforcement had used a variety of techniques to link him to co-conspirators in the case, including information gathered from a GPS device that was placed on a Jeep primarily used by Jones. Law enforcement had no valid warrant to place the device on the car.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for a five-member majority, held that the installation and use of the device constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment based on trespassing grounds. The ruling overturned Jones’ conviction.

“It is important to be clear about what occurred in this case,” Scalia wrote. “The government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information. We have no doubt that such a physical intrusion would have been considered a ‘search’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.”

It was a narrow ruling only directly impacting those devices that were physically placed on vehicles.

Weissmann said it wasn’t Scalia’s majority opinion that caused such turmoil in the bureau, but a concurring opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito. Alito, whose opinion was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, agreed with the Court’s conclusion in the case but wrote separately because his legal reasoning differed from the majority.

Alito focused not on the attachment of the device, but the fact that law enforcement monitored Jones for about a month. Alito said “the use of longer-term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.”  He also suggested that Scalia’s reliance on laws of trespass, will “provide no protection” for surveillance accomplished without committing a trespass.

“For example,” Alito wrote, “suppose that the officers in the present case had followed respondent by surreptitiously activating a stolen vehicle detection system that came with the car when it was purchased?”

In his talk at a University of San Francisco Law Review Symposium, Weissmann suggested that Alito’s concurrence means that several members of the court are concerned with long-term surveillance by technologies beyond GPS systems and that the FBI needs new guidance in order to ensure that evidence does not get thrown out.

“I just can’t stress enough,” Weissmann said, “what a sea change that is perceived to be within the department.”

He said that after agents were told to turn off the devices, his office had to issue guidance on how some of the devices that had been used without a warrant could actually be retrieved without violating the law.

Weissmann said the FBI is working on two memos for agents in the field. One seeks to give guidance about using GPS devices.  A second one targets other technologies beyond the GPS as they may also face restrictions.

“I think the court did not wrestle with the problems their decision creates,” said Weissmann.

In the Jones opinion, he said, the court didn’t offer much clarity or any bright line rules that would have been helpful to law enforcement.

Catherine Crump, an attorney with the ACLU, welcomed the court’s ruling as a first step toward preserving privacy rights.

“Alito’s concurrence concerned the FBI because if tracking someone’s movements violates their privacy, that should be true no matter what technology the FBI uses,” says Crump. “The FBI now needs to give guidance to agents in the field, and the Alito decision raises serious questions about the constitutionality of other ways of tracking suspects.”

As for Antoine Jones, the man whose conviction was thrown out because of the ruling, the government has announced that it wants to retry Jones without using evidence obtained from the GPS device. The trial is expected to start in May.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jan232012

GPS Tracking Requires Warrant, Supreme Court Rules

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A unanimous Supreme Court ruled on Monday that law enforcement needed a warrant when it placed a GPS tracking device on a suspected drug dealer’s car.

“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority of the court.

The case stemmed from the conviction of nightclub owner Antoine Jones on conspiracy to distribute five kilograms of cocaine and 50 or more grams of cocaine base. Law enforcement had used a variety of techniques to link him to the co-conspirators in the case, including information gathered from a global positioning system that was placed on a Jeep primarily used by Jones. Law enforcement did not have a valid warrant to place the device on the car.

“It is important to be clear about what occurred in this case,” Scalia wrote. “[T]he government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information.”

The decision is a loss for the Obama administration, which had argued that the attachment of the device to monitor the movements of Jones’ vehicle on public streets was not a search.

The court affirmed a lower court ruling that reversed Jones’ conviction because of the GPS evidence that was obtained without a warrant.

Scalia was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Samuel Alito — joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan — agreed with the conclusion of the court but wrote separately because his legal reasoning differed from the majority.

Alito focused not on the attachment of the device, but the extent of time law enforcement monitored Jones.

“In this case, for four weeks, law enforcement agents tracked every movement that respondent made in the vehicle he was driving. We need not identify with precision the point at which the tracking of this vehicle became a search, for the line was surely crossed before the four-week mark,” Alito wrote.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec282011

Santa Fe Introduces GPS Tracking Instead of Jail Time For Burglars

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SANTA FE, N.M.) -- Santa Fe has introduced a new system that tracks convicted burglars through GPS devices rather than putting them in jail. Police began monitoring the first offender last week.

The program will start with just five GPS devices to gauge its effectiveness and collect data.

Santa Fe Police Capt. Aric Wheeler told ABC News the idea for the program originated as an alternative to repetitive incarceration, which is expensive. It also did little to deter burglaries. Wheeler said that police would see an immediate spike in burglaries as soon as criminals got out of jail.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem. You have to come up with new and creative ways to deal with them,”  Wheeler said.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Doug Couleur told ABC News the program targets individuals facing long sentences, those with a large number of burglary charges, or people who have a juvenile history. Prosecutors and police will work in conjunction with the offenders’ attorneys to evaluate their cases and agree if the individual should be included in the program.

Couleur says within the negotiations, there are multiple issues that must be agreed to by the defendant in order to uphold the constitutionality of the program.

“A person who goes into the program has to specifically consent to it because they waive any issues to unrestricted access to their data by police department,” Couleur said. A clause in the program mandates employment.

“They can contribute to society and they have to go out and get a job. We can reintegrate them into the community,”  Wheeler said. “If they truly want to be rehabilitated and they know ‘Big Brother’ is watching them, I’m hoping they will be more reluctant to commit burglaries again.”

The anklets have two types of monitors, active and passive. Santa Fe police will track them passively, meaning the devices won’t give live GPS data to police computers. However, if there is reason for suspicion, such as multiple burglaries reported in one area, or if a crime fits the monitored burglar’s previous modes of operation, then police can send a request to the 3M, the GPS device company, to get the live locations so they can intervene.

The plan could also be beneficial for many cities and states struggling fiscally, as it could be a way to alleviate the financial toll of incarceration. It could also help the problem of jail overcrowding. These issues were major catalysts in initiating the plan.

Couleur agreed, telling ABC News, “You can’t put everyone in jails. There is no money for new jails and there are no beds in the jails. There have to be alternatives for jails and this is a pretty good one.”

Not everyone thinks this is such a good alternative. Assistant Public Defender Joseph Campbell thinks defendants might not “really understand the full ramifications to what they are agreeing to.”

“If this person picks up new charges through the monitoring program, as a defense attorney I am going to look at whether that initial plea was voluntarily and if they knew it could come back and hurt them,” Campbell said.

However, Wheeler told ABC news he believes this is the “technology of the future,” and thinks even though it is still in its preliminary stages, the program has a lot of potential.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Nov072011

GPS Devices to Track Suspects: Is It Constitutional?

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case Tuesday stemming from the use of a GPS device to track a drug suspect in Washington, D.C. The case in front of the court -- United States v. Jones -- deals with the conviction of Antoine Jones, who owned and managed a nightclub in Washington, D.C. Jones was convicted of drug charges after law enforcement used a variety of techniques to link him to co-conspirators.

One technique was an electronic tracking device, installed secretly without a valid warrant on a Jeep used by Jones.

An appeals court in Washington, D.C., reversed Jones' conviction, finding that the evidence obtained with the GPS device was in violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg, writing for the majority of a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, differentiated between a conventional 24-hour surveillance conducted by law enforcement on public streets and the GPS technology that tracked Jones' movements on such streets 24 hours a day for nearly a month.

"Here, the police used the GPS device not to track Jones' movements from one place to another, but rather to track Jones' movements 24 hours a day for 28 days as he moved among scores of places, thereby discovering the totality and pattern of his movements from place to place."

The judge said that new technology tracking the totality of an individual's movement was different from traditional surveillance techniques.

Lawyers for the Obama administration are appealing the decision, arguing in court papers that all the Jeep's movements were "unquestionably exposed to public view" and, therefore, Jones did not have a "justifiable expectation that his public movements would remain invisible to private or government observation."

But Walter Dellinger, a lawyer for Jones, argued, "You may understand that your neighbor can observe you on a public street. What you cannot expect is that a neighbor would attach a GPS to your car and disclose your every movement."

The justices will also discuss whether the attachment of the device to the car parked in a private driveway violated the Fourth Amendment.

Privacy rights advocates say the case illustrates how new technology has transformed the debate regarding the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep292011

Supreme Court Returns to Consider Health Care, GPS Technology, Strip Searches and More

United States Supreme Court(WASHINGTON) -- The highest court in the land is ramping up for its 2011 term, and facing some potentially monumental cases.

Looming over the start of the Supreme Court's term is the question of when the justices will hear a challenge to President Obama's Affordable Care Act, the constitutionality of which has been challenged by lower courts in 26 states. 

But the Court is already set to hear an interesting range of other cases, including law enforcement's use of global positioning systems, the government's policy of indecency on the broadcast airwaves and the constitutionality of strip searches for minor offenses. Here's a look at the docket's major cases:

The Affordable Care Act:

Lower courts are divided on the issue of whether the health care law's key provision -- the individual mandate forcing individuals to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty -- is constitutional. On Wednesday night, the Obama administration asked the Court to review the case it lost in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Because the government is asking the Supreme Court to step in and address a major act of Congress that has divided the lower courts, the Justices are expected to render a decision before the next election.

GPS and Law Enforcement:

In the court's most important Fourth Amendment case in a decade, the justices will weigh an individual's expectation of privacy against law endorsement's use of increasingly sophisticated technology to follow suspects on public property.

The case stems from the 2008 case in which Antoine Jones was convicted on drug charges. Law enforcement used a variety of techniques to link Jones to other co-conspirators and one technique was a or GPS device installed secretly -- without a valid warrant -- on a Jeep used by Jones in order to track his movements by satellite.

Broadcast Indecency:

The Supreme Court will also hear a challenge brought by broadcast television against the government's policy on indecency on the airwaves from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

At issue are the "fleeting expletives" uttered by celebrities such as Cher and Nicole Richie televised during primetime on Fox Television, as well as an episode of NYPD Blue on ABC which showed a woman's unclothed backside.

The Federal Communications Commission, charged with regulating indecency over public airwaves, ruled in both instances that the broadcasters had violated its policy.

In court briefs, the government defended the FCC's policy, arguing the "pervasiveness of foul language, and the coarsening of public entertainment in other media such as cable, justify more stringent regulation of broadcast programs so as to give conscientious parents a relatively safe haven for their children."

Strip Searches:

Lower courts have split on the issue as to whether reasonable suspicion is needed before strip searching an individual entering the prison population.

In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that in the interest of security, prisons could conduct visual body cavity searches of all detainees after they had contact with outsiders. For years after that ruling, lower courts ruled that the prison had to have a reasonable suspicion that the arrestee was concealing contraband before subjecting him to a strip search upon entering the facility.

But in recent years, courts have begun to allow a blanket policy to strip search all arrestees. The Obama administration has filed a "friend of the court" brief arguing that the need for security in the jails outweighs the individual privacy rights regarding strip searches.

It points out that the Federal Bureau of Prisons houses more than 216,000 pretrial detainees and convicted inmates, and subjects them all to visual body cavity inspections before they can be placed in the general prison population.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio