Police & You: GPS Means Big Brother is Watching

Police & You: GPS Means Big Brother is Watching

Technology is changing the relationship between the police & you.  As mobile devices become more advanced, so do the ways police can track you. Recently, the Sixth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled that law enforcement officials can use cell phone data, specifically GPS information, to track and locate people without a warrant.

The Court determined that the cell phone was a tool used to help transport illegal drugs and its exclusion would be the equivalent of not being allowed to follow a getaway car or being unable to use a drug dog if the criminal believed he had not been identified in the car or had a scent to be tracking by the dog.

DEA agents were able to discover a alleged drug mule’s phone number that was connected to a false name. As it turned out, the cell phone being used had GPS technology in it. With this information, the DEA was able to track the person and catch him with a substantial amount of marijuana. He was charged and convicted of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute over 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and several other charges.

One of the distinguishing facts between this case and others where searches have been found to be a violation of the 4th Amendmet is the method of intrusion. Courts have consistently found a 4th Amendment violation where police and law enforcement have placed or used devices they planted to locate a criminal. In the present case, police used data obtained from a phone purchased by the individual and used to further drug trafficking.

The power that this ruling will give law enforcement officials has yet to be realized, however, it poses significant privacy concerns for anyone with a phone that has GPS. It has most certainly raised significant questions about the relationship between the police & you.

How much information do police need before they begin using data from a cell phone? If they simply find a phone number a crime scene, is that enough to allow for data tracking? Many more questions than answers have been raised by the Court’s ruling and only future cases will answer them. As of the writing of this article, Congress is considering a bill that would require police to obtain a warrant if they wanted to locate a person using data emitted from their phones, laptops, tablets, or any other electronic device with GPS.Until then, Big Brother is watching.

If you or someone you love is under investigation by law enforcement, or being monitored via the GPS in your cell phone, it is critical that you contact an experienced Detroit criminal defense attorney.