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Appeals court limits use of GPS to track suspects


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Appeals court limits use of GPS to track suspects

By Spencer S. Hsu

Washington Post Staff Writer

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A federal appeals court ruled for the first time Friday that police cannot use a Global Positioning System device to track a person's movements for an extended time without a warrant, clearing the way for the Supreme Court to decide the privacy impact of the new surveillance technology in products such as cellphones and vehicle-navigation systems.

The decision, by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, created a split with federal circuit courts in New York and California that have upheld warrantless GPS tracking of a vehicle by law enforcement. Feeding the national debate, a half-dozen state courts have issued conflicting rulings, while police across the country embrace GPS tools in hunting drug dealers, sexual predators and violent criminals.

In striking down the drug conviction of Antoine Jones, former co-owner of a District nightclub called Levels, the D.C. court said the FBI and District police overstepped their authority by tracking his movements round-the-clock for four weeks, placing a GPS monitoring device on his Jeep after an initial warrant had expired.

U.S. Circuit Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg, writing for a unanimous and ideologically diverse panel that included judges David S. Tatel and Thomas B. Griffith, said such surveillance technology represents a leap forward in potential government intrusion that violates constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.

"A single trip to a gynecologist's office tells little about a woman, but that trip followed a few weeks later by a visit to a baby supply store tells a different story," Ginsburg wrote.

He added, "A person who knows all of another's travels can deduce whether he is a weekly churchgoer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups -- and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts."

Bill Miller, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. of the District said, "We're studying the opinion and have no further comment."

( Read the complete story here at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...?hpid%3Dtopnews )

~Shy

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