Using technology to track criminals is a slippery slope, and law enforcement officials have been gliding downhill. According to the Wall Street Journal, state and federal authorities have tracked the movements of thousands of Americans each year by secretly monitoring the location of their cellphones – often without a warrant.
The practice may face an abrupt end as legal challenges play catch up to technological advances.
Antoine Jones had his drug conviction thrown out on appeal. The nightclub owner was convicted based largely on evidence gathered as police electronically tracked his movements using a GPS device on his wife’s vehicle. Authorities did not have a warrant.
And that is the issue the high Court is expected to weigh in on.
While we can’t claim to understand the full legal complexities of the case before Supreme Court Justices, there are a variety of reasons we believe warrants should be the rule and not the exception when people are tracked electronically.
Position tracking requests are often sealed records. Most people don’t even know they’ve been tracked unless they are charged with a crime and the tracking data is used as evidence in the case.
Search warrants are delivered to people who have their property searched. The quiet practice of electronic tracking seems like an abusive invasion to privacy – especially when many may be tracked without ever knowing.
It’s strange to learn that warrantless positioning searches are being conducted considering the challenges Kansas activists faced to draft and approve a bill mandating that wireless communication companies assist law enforcement when someone may be in jeopardy.
Readers will recall that it took Verizon Wireless three days to provide phone records for Kelsey Smith when the Overland Park teenager went missing in June 2007. Now Kelsey’s law requires the companies to act quickly in such instances.
In the meantime, those same companies are willingly assisting authorities to track potential criminals — sometimes without a warrant. This seems backwards.
We’re glad the Supreme Court is examining the current practice. Privacy should be protected in a free and civil society.