ACLU Of Virginia challenging warrantless GPS tracking by police

By Tara Morgan - bio | email|

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A secret crime fighting tool is stirring up controversy. The ACLU of Virginia wants police to get a warrant before using a GPS to track people in their cars.

Right now, it's not required by law. In Virginia, police can walk up to any car, as long as it's on public property, and attach a GPS device.

One local police agency told me, the technology is often used in narcotics investigations. But some argue warrantless surveillance is a privacy rights violation.

It's not the technology, but how police put it to use. Some have a problem with it, some don't.

"I have no problem with police doing, whatever they have to do to catch the criminals," said Marge Schmitt.

"If it's court ordered then it's lawful, otherwise I think police should not be able to track anybody without any warrant. It's like illegal wire tapping same thing," said Alex Muylar.

"If it raises ethical concerns, I'm not all for it necessarily," said Joe Timberlake.

The Virginia Full Court of Appeals is reviewing a case involving a Fairfax man, on probation for sexual assault, who was arrested and later convicted of another sex crime after police tracked him with a GPS without a warrant.

A three judge panel of that court ruled it's not a privacy rights violation-- if the device is attached on public property. So as long as your car isn't in your driveway or garage, police can stick a GPS device on it and then remotely watch your every move.

We checked with several police agencies in Central Virginia about the common practice of GPS tracking. They were hesitant about talking specifics fearing it would give away investigative tactics.

ACLU's Kent Willis says the argument isn't against police tracking criminals, but doing it without checks and balances.

"The future of that is actually rather scary. The cheaper these devices become the closer we get to big brother; that is the ability of the police to essentially track everyone all the time if they want to do that," said Willis.

It could take months before the Virginia Court of Appeals hears arguments in the case and even longer before there's a ruling. We'll keep you posted. 

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