Wednesday, May 20, 2009

GPS, Privacy, and the NY Court of Appeals

Great decision by the New York Court of Appeals, in the case of People v. Weaver. Police, without a warrant, placed a GPS tracking device on the underside of the defendant's car - for 65 days. They later used the GPS evidence against him in a criminal trial where he was convicted.

The Court of Appeals, in a 4-3 decision, reversed the conviction and held:
Under our State Constitution, in the absence of exigent circumstances, the installation and use of a GPS device to monitor an individual's whereabouts requires a warrant supported by probable cause.

The three dissenting judges stated:
Because no one invaded defendant's privacy here, his motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the GPS device should be denied.

In the spirit of the idea of using eminent domain to take Justice Souter's house after Kelo, I hereby offer to pay for the installation of such devices on the cars of the three dissenting judges, and of District Attorney David Soares whose office argued against this appeal. Since they think it's not an invasion of privacy, they really shouldn't mind.

By the way, great job on the appeal by my friends Matt Hug and Trey Smith. Kudos also to the 4 judges who did the right thing, and to Chief Judge Lippman for a well-written decision. Here's my favorite part:

One need only consider what the police may learn, practically effortlessly, from planting a single device. The whole of a person's progress through the world, into both public and private spatial spheres, can be charted and recorded over lengthy periods possibly limited only by the need to change the transmitting unit's batteries. Disclosed in the data retrieved from the transmitting unit, nearly instantaneously with the press of a button on the highly portable receiving unit, will be trips the indisputably private nature of which takes little imagination to conjure: trips to the psychiatrist, the plastic surgeon, the abortion clinic, the AIDS treatment center, the strip club, the criminal defense attorney, the by-the-hour motel, the union meeting, the mosque, synagogue or church, the gay bar and on and on. What the technology yields and records with breathtaking quality and quantity, is a highly detailed profile, not simply of where we go, but by easy inference, of our associations — political, religious, amicable and amorous, to name only a few — and of the pattern of our professional and avocational pursuits.

Oh, and also credit to Justice Leslie Stein, the lone judge on the Appellate Division on the correct side, and the reason this case got to the Court of Appeals.
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