The world is rapidly developing. Everything from microwaves to iPads has been developed within the last 50 years. New gadgets have appeared, including new methods for dealing with crime. Police now have the potential to curb crime by shooting a GPS tracker at any suspicious car via laser-guided handgun, and track a person’s whereabouts for days or even weeks, something that would have been unimaginable even twenty years ago.
As of April 28, a three-judge panel upheld in the Seventh Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals — comprising the states of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin — that this practice is legal, and it is unnecessary for police to obtain a warrant in this situation.
Disregarding the ill-fitting notion of using James Bond tactics to curb real-life crime, the most upsetting thing about this case is the secrecy of the tracking or “search,” and the idea that it is unnecessary for police to produce a warrant or inform the suspicious person of their audit.
This case’s legality means that it is up to police to decide what is suspicious. One wonders, what factors do the police weigh before they choose to track a car?
It sounds oddly reminiscent of Arizona’s SB1070 bill, which would have allowed police to ask drivers they suspected to be illegal immigrants to produce documentation papers and proof of residency or citizenship, all without a warrant.
But the resounding difference between these two cases is that a federal judge blocked some controversial provisions of SB1070 from ever taking effect, arguing the potential for broad misuse, whereas the majority of judges of the Seventh Circuit panel upheld the GPS tracking decision in U.S. v. Juan Cuevas-Perez.
The U.S. v. Juan Cuevas-Perez case was upheld because ultimately, the judges decided that information gathered from this GPS tracking device, which was used on Cuevas-Perez’s car for 28 days, could also be gathered by police who simply follow what they consider a suspicious car.
In her dissenting opinion, Judge Diane P. Wood said, “The technological devices available for such monitoring have rapidly attained a degree of accuracy that would have been unimaginable to an earlier generation. They make the system that George Orwell depicted in his famous novel, “1984,” seem clumsy and easily avoidable by comparison.”
Judge Wood maintains that as new technologies like the GPS tracking device appear, the margin for error disappears. Police following a suspicious car cannot be as accurate as the GPS devices that are now going to replace them. And by comparing the device to the mass surveillance depicted in “1984,” Wood suggests the new GPS tracking represents a serious invasion of privacy.
And where are Fourth Amendment protections in all of this? Instead of new world uses of the Fourth Amendment that would address new technologies like the GPS tracker, old world applications of it and strict interpretation lead to decisions like U.S. v. Juan Cuevas-Perez, and to the lessening of Fourth Amendment protections for citizens in the United States.
The Fourth Amendment must not remain stagnant, unable to face rising challenges of the modern world.
It is now up to the Supreme Court to invalidate this decision, and broaden protections of the Fourth Amendment to address new technologies in the modern world.