Warrant-less GPS tracking, and Fourth Amendment search rights violations, remains a hotly contested debate in courtrooms across the country. Dissension among judges seems to be the rule, and not the exception. Rulings continue to contradict one another. The latest example comes from a divided Baltimore federal appeals court. There is a potential ripple effect in the law enforcement community, and privacy rights hang in the balance.
The Courts Remain Divided on Warrant-less GPS Tracking – AP Photo
This should seem like a case of deja vu in law enforcement circles. An important aspect to these cases is presumption of privacy when in the public domain. In order to expedite surveillance of a suspect in a gun and drug investigation, Baltimore police made the tactical decision to affix a GPS tracking device to the target vehicle. Installation occurred in a public parking lot, with the device being magnetically attached under the rear bumper of the vehicle.
The target of the investigation, Henry Stephens, of course challenged the validity of the evidence collected as a result of the GPS tracking device. The courts continue to skirt the issues of reasonable search and probable cause as justification in attaching a tracking device to target vehicles without a warrant.
Another important aspect to these cases is that they are, for the most part, being challenged at the state level. No concrete federal standard, and very little precedent, exists that dictates the rulings in these cases. There promises to be continued confusion as individual states adopt their own legislation governing the use of covert GPS tracking by law enforcement. And as GPS tracking technology continues to advance and evolve, one can only imagine that more of these cases will find their way to the courts.
August 2nd, 2014, Cape Canaveral, FL – Early Saturday morning, after an approximate 3 1/2 hours of flight, the GPS IIF satellite vehicle finally separated from the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and took its place in semi-synchronous orbit with 6 of its siblings at an altitude of just under 10,900 nautical miles. The 7th of a planned 12, GPS IIF or Follow-on, is an interim class of GPS satellite designed as a stopgap measure to maintain a functional GPS system until the GPS IIIA satellites enter operational service.
In an ongoing effort to modernize the entire GPS system, Boeing’s GPS IIF satellites bring many core improvements for both military and civilian users. A brief outline of these evolved capabilities are:
- 3rd civil signal on L5 frequency (L5)
- Advanced atomic clocks
- Improved accuracy, signal strength, and quality
- 12-year design lifespan
GPS IIF-7 Satellite Launch (Credit/ULA)
Perhaps the most impactful of these new improvements is the L5 signal. L5 is a U.S. signal designation that is reserved solely for aviation. In light of the many recent aviation tragedies, L5 holds the promise of significantly improved safety in aviation transportation.
Beyond aviation, L5 will act as the 3rd, and most advanced, civilian GPS signal. When used in combination with the 1st two GPS signals, L1 C/A and L2C, L5 could provide position accuracy in feet, versus meters. The new GPS IIF-7 satellite will undergo a battery of tests, and is expected to join active operational service in the GPS constellation by September of this year.