The New York State Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling baring police from tracking the cars of criminal suspects with GPS systems unless a warrant is first obtained from a judge. The ruling was set in motion by a case in Albany County where the state police believed a man may have been committing burglaries. The GPS device was used to place the suspects car at the scene of a shopping center burglary. However, Chief Judge John Lippman ruled that this type of GPS tracking violated the state Constitution.
In the majority opinion, Lippman wrote that “It is quite clear that this would not, and indeed, realistically could not be done without GPS and this dragnet use of of this technology at the sole discretion of law enforcement authorities to pry into the details of people’s daily lives is not consistent with the values at the core of the state Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable searches.”
A New York State attorney who had been involved in a similar case with a man who was tracked by a GPS device praised the verdict as a strong one. William Tendy, a native of Poughkeepsie, stated that “The decision makes good sense; it’s well-reasoned.” He also said that the ruling was a good sign, as law enforcement agencies are usually believed to be slow in addressing advancements in technology that are seen as eroding citizens privacy.
Ulster County D.A. Holley Carnight, who said that GPS devices are sometimes used in law enforcement cases in the county, particularly in drug investigations, was one law enforcement official who disagreed with the Court of Appeals ruling. He believes that GPS tracking does not give enough information on drivers to be an infringement on privacy.
“It doesn’t tell you who the driver is or what he’s doing, so I don’t think the situation is as sinister as the majority seems to believe,” Carnight said.
The New York State Court of Appeals may have the state’s citizens best interests at heart, but with this ruling, law enforcement may face a major set back in fighting crime. The vehicle GPS tracking systems that law enforcement uses in both New York and other states at this moment in time are very simple and have a clear goal: to track and stop suspected criminals and in doing so, protect communities. Our pinion is that there is no “Big Brother” effect at work here with the trackers. Rather, it is just law enforcement serving and protecting, as it’s their duty to do so.