Warrant Needed for Police Use of GPS Device, Court Rules

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Police cannot attach a Global Positioning System tracker to a suspect’s vehicle without a warrant, the Washington Supreme Court declared Thursday in the first such ruling in the nation.

The court, however, refused to overturn the murder conviction of William Bradley Jackson, who unknowingly led police to the shallow grave of his 9-year-old daughter in 1999. Spokane County deputies had a warrant for the GPS tracking device used in that case, although prosecutors argued they did not need one, according to the Associated Press.

“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

She raised the prospect of citizens being tracked to “the strip club, the opera, the baseball game, the `wrong’ side of town, the family planning clinic, the labor rally.”

The closely watched case had evoked worries about police using the satellite-tracking devices like Big Brother to watch citizens’ every move.

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