GPS Tracking–Is It An Unconstitutional Search?


Days before the arrest of Tennessee’s suspected “Wooded Rapist,” police knew where he was at all times because they had hidden a global positioning system on Robert Jason Burdick’s Jeep and tracked him for two days, reports The Tennessean. Police used the tool to complement other surveillance tactics on the man accused of raping at least 13 area women over 14 years. Critics say the GPS devices violate of privacy and constitutee illegal search and seizure, which is protected under the Fourth Amendment. In some states, like Washington and Oregon, a court order or search warrant is needed before the device can be attached to a car; police must prove reasonable suspicion before proceeding. In Tennessee, it’s legal for authorities to use the device without a warrant.

As long as the device is attached in a public place, advocates say, there’s no privacy violation. “You’re not really conducting any kind of a search – it’s a surveillance tool which is very useful and is really taking advantage of technological advancements,” said Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson. “You’re doing electronically what you could do visually. But the advantage, of course, is it’s more foolproof in that regard. It can be a very important tool.” GPS devices, which can cost as little as $200s, pinpoint an exact location by calculating the signals received from a network of satellites. Speed and direction can also be measured. Police are reluctant to talk about their use of the device so they don’t give criminals details about how they investigate cases.


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