Guidelines for Using GPS Tracking in Criminal Investigations

National Police Training
August 1, 2012 — 2,375 views  
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As a police officer or deputy, you can understand why using GPS tracking can be useful in criminal investigation cases. However, there are some basic guidelines and regulations you should be aware of in terms of utilizing these devices, as warrants are needed.

According to The Washington Post, in January 2012 the Supreme County unanimously restricted the ability of the police to use GPS tracking devices to find criminal suspects. This court decision is an example of how privacy rights will be maintained and protected as the digital age progresses, suggests the publication.

Although the government explained that GPS tracking is the same as traditional forms of monitoring criminal suspects, the court rejected this idea, stating that the Fourth Amendment will be applied in light of such advances in surveillance technology. The Amendment is meant to protect against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the court determined that attaching a GPS tracking device to a suspect's vehicle or other personal belongings was in violation of this.

Therefore, the Supreme Court ruled that police must obtain a search warrant before using GPS technology to track suspected criminals. NBC News explains this presents a challenge for law enforcement, as police officers and deputies are increasingly using high tech surveillance devices, including GPS technology, to track criminal suspects.

"This is an indication that there are justices who are recognizing that privacy norms are shifting but the fact that people's lives take place increasingly online does not mean that society has decided that there's no such thing as privacy anymore," said Joel Reidenberg, law professor at Fordham University in New York, New York, according to Reuters.

Former Maryland state trooper and University of Maryland’s Center for Health and Homeland Security staff member Vernon Herron told The New York Times that GPS and similar devices are commonly used and are especially useful for terrorism and narcotics investigations.

However, police will now have to obtain a search warrant in order to utilize GPS tracking technology. While electronic monitoring like using radio frequency devices for telephone supervision will likely continue, as well as the use of GPS and satellite tracking, the lawful use of these devices will require a court order.

Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) GPS Manager Carlton Butler said, "The use of GPS technology is not a panacea and will not replace good old traditional law enforcement investigation techniques, but it is another helpful tool to assist in fighting crime."

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