Judge warns of ‘Orwellian state’ in warrantless GPS tracking case
Police in Delaware may soon be unable to use global positioning systems (GPS) to keep tabs on a suspect unless they have a court-signed warrant, thanks to a recent ruling by a superior court judge who cited famed author George Orwell in her decision.
In striking down evidence obtained through warrantless GPS tracking, Delaware Judge Jan R. Jurden wrote that “an Orwellian state is now technologically feasible,” adding that “without adequate judicial preservation of privacy, there is nothing to protect our citizens from being tracked 24/7.”
The ruling goes against a federal appeals court’s decision last summer that allowed warrantless tracking by GPS.
Unless there are special circumstances, “the warrantless placement of a GPS device to track a suspect 24 hours a day constitutes an unlawful search,” Judge Jurden wrote in her ruling (PDF). “In this case, there was insufficient probable cause independent of the GPS tracking to stop Holden’s vehicle where and when it was stopped, and therefore, the evidence seized from Holden’s vehicle must be suppressed.”
Jurden argued that the same legal principle that allows officers to tail a suspect in traffic, without a warrant, doesn’t apply to GPS because the devices reveal far more about a person under surveillance than physical surveillance could — and more than police need.
“Prolonged GPS surveillance provides more information than one reasonably expects to ‘expose to the public,’” she wrote. “The whole of one’s movement over a prolonged period of time tells a vastly different story than movement over a day as may be completed by manned surveillance.”
She added, “It takes little to imagine what constant and prolonged surveillance could expose about someone’s life even if they are not participating in any criminal activity.”