TLP: Justices Remind Police To Follow Rules Before Snooping

gps tracker
For anyone who saw U.S. Sen. Rand Paul's "detention" by TSA agents after he declined to follow pre-flight screening procedures as a sign of out-of-control law enforcement, relax. Looks like they just asked him to have a seat. And then he got on another plane.

I happen to know law enforcement. In fact, my sketchy ass has been stopped twice in recent weeks by police — only one of those times was I in the company of SSSS-listed Jr Deputy Accountant, so don't blame her — and both times, I was allowed to proceed unimpeded with only verbal "warnings" about whatever questionable behavior the officers might have presumed to observe.

As much as I enjoy it when the subject is me, those are small incidents. The real good news about how police can and can't behave comes from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled unanimously that the police violated the Constitution when they placed a Global Positioning System tracking device on a suspect’s car and monitored its movements for 28 days.

A set of overlapping opinions in the case collectively suggested that a majority of the justices are prepared to apply broad privacy principles to bring the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches into the digital age, when law enforcement officials can gather extensive information without ever entering an individual’s home or vehicle.

Walter Dellinger, a lawyer for the defendant in the case and a former acting United States solicitor general, said the decision was “a signal event in Fourth Amendment history.”

“Law enforcement is now on notice,” Mr. Dellinger said, “that almost any use of GPS electronic surveillance of a citizen’s movement will be legally questionable unless a warrant is obtained in advance.”

An overlapping array of justices were divided on the rationale for the decision, with the majority saying the problem was the placement of the device on private property.

But five justices also discussed their discomfort with the government’s use of or access to various modern technologies, including video surveillance in public places, automatic toll collection systems on highways, devices that allow motorists to signal for roadside assistance, location data from cellphone towers and records kept by online merchants.
That doesn't mean we'll necessarily be free of having our bits scanned and groped before we get on airplanes — even if the devices that do that are examples of "modern technology" — but it's a good sign and a welcome reinforcement of the importance of separation of powers in the government.

The court's ruling doesn't seem to impact personal use of surveillance technology, only that by law enforcement. As the Times reported in an enterprising follow-up: "Tens of thousands of Americans are already doing just that, with little oversight, for purposes as seemingly benign as tracking an elderly parent with dementia or a risky teenage driver, or as legally and ethically charged as spying on a spouse or an employee — or for outright criminal stalking."

Feel better?

The Lazy Paperboy

Some say he’s half man half fish, others say he’s more of a seventy/thirty split. Either way he’s a fishy bastard.