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.


Rob Salkin said...

Going by the questions asked by Graffeo and Smith, I expected it to go 5-2 with one of them in the majority. Oh well. 4-3 is good enough.

Rob Salkin said...

Also, I seem to remember meeting Stein somewhere. I think it was at a Women's Law Caucus event. I was the only guy in the room and she made sure to point that out. Hmmm. Maybe it was Peters who said that. I can't remember...

Dan Weaver said...

Great post and great decision by the court.

Unknown said...

Kudos for Stein,
but it makes me laugh because she (her lawyer) argued completely the opposite when I filed a writ of prohibition against her for putting me under electronic surveillance after paying 15k bail on a misdemeanor before trial.
I argued the Statue is clear about the "absolute" right to bail in a missdemeanor. Her lawyer argued that constitutional rights were waivable. I my opinion basically saying that women could wave their right to vote.
I still hurt, but happy to see she is defending our civil rights now.