Tracking GPS on a Car Without the Owner’s Knowledge and Consent

May 30, 2013 · by rosenblumlawfirm · in

Top NY Court to Consider the Legality of Putting a Tracking GPS on a Car Without the Owner’s Knowledge and Consent

A GPS tracking device was placed on the family car of a state worker who was suspected of falsifying time sheets. According to the employee and his attorney, investigators failed to obtain a warrant, did not provide him with any notice of the tracking device, and it operated 24/7 for a full 30 days – even during a week long family vacation.

The Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, will soon be hearing the case, which was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the employee. In the past, a NY court struck down the use of GPS devices to track potential suspects unless officers got a warrant.

This lawsuit claims that the use of the GPS tracking device on the employee’s personal car was unconstitutional and too intrusive to be justified by the limited warrant exception for searches of government employees. However, State Assistant Solicitor General Kate Nepveu strongly disagrees. She argues that using the GPS was reasonable under the circumstances. According to her, the employee had reported using his car for off-site work-meetings and even knew he was under investigation.

Moreover, she claims that all other avenues had been explored and the employee still failed to address his timesheet problem. Similarly, she asserts that:

  1. he had a “diminished expectation of privacy,”
  2. the only information gathered was the car’s location, and
  3. all information gathered during non-work hours was not used against him.

A divided Appellate Division (mid-level appeals court) denied the employee’s request to suppress the GPS evidence which means unless the Court of Appeals disagrees the GPS evidence will be admissible at trial.

Not too long ago, in United States v. Jones, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously ruled that the installation of a GPS tracking device was unconstitutional. 

Ultimately, this case will have to fit into that overarching framework established by the Supreme Court. Only time will tell whether the employee’s constitutional rights were violated or not.