Wisconsin police can attach GPS to cars to secretly track anybody’s movements without obtaining search warrants, an appeals court ruled Thursday.

However, the District 4 Court of Appeals said it was “more than a little troubled” by that conclusion and asked Wisconsin lawmakers to regulate GPS use to protect against abuse by police and private individuals.

As the law currently stands, the court said police can mount GPS on cars to track people without violating their constitutional rights — even if the drivers aren’t suspects.

Officers do not need to get warrants beforehand because GPS tracking does not involve a search or a seizure, Judge Paul Lundsten wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel based in Madison.

That means “police are seemingly free to secretly track anyone’s public movements with a GPS device,” he wrote.

One privacy advocate said the decision opened the door for greater government surveillance of citizens. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials called the decision a victory for public safety because tracking devices are an increasingly important tool in investigating criminal behavior.

  1. lock_down says:

    It’s nice to know the Government cares about me so much that they want to track my movements to work and back.

  2. KD Martin says:

    I foresee a niche market in GPS detectors.

  3. otterpkt says:

    What if I find one of these devices on my car? Am I free to remove it? free to destroy it? What rights would I have?

  4. WmDE says:

    Actually the use of GPS allows police to reduce their carbon footprint. Previously if you wanted to track some random citizen you had to assign a surveillance team using five car interchangeable tail with possible air assets. Now a handful of double-A batteries and a GPS unit is all you need.

    It’s Green!

  5. Ah_Yea says:

    A couple of thoughts here.

    As much as I hate to admit it, I’m glad to see a court actually interpreting law instead of writing law. Not to mention the court actually recommending the law be changed. This is the way the court should act. Now it is up to the people and legislature to create law.

    The people create laws, the courts enforce laws. That’s the way it is supposed to be.

    Next, can I find and remove the device?

    If the device can be installed without a court order, I would believe it can be removed without one either. Of course the Police would have some type of anti-tampering legal issue to bring up, and eventually the court will have to decide.

    For example, parking tickets. The officer does not need a court order to trespass on your private property (your car) and place the ticket. By the same token, you don’t need a court order to remove it.

  6. Benjamin says:

    A safe bet would be to drop it out the window of your car as you cross a railroad track or hit a pothole.

  7. Paddy-O says:

    So, this means someone can attach a tracker to a police car too…

  8. Improbus says:

    There is no way the police will abuse this power … right? Did some one repeal the 4th Amendment?

  9. Mac Guy says:

    #3 – I’m no lawyer, but…

    I’d say that you can remove anything that someone else attached to your property. For example, if someone put a ribbon on my car’s antenna, I’d have the right to remove it. I’ve heard of cases where the court has upheld the property owner’s right to remove objects from their property (in particular, those car boots).

    I’m not sure if you would have the right to destroy it. If the process of removing the device requires its destruction, then I’d say yes. However, if it can be safely removed without damaging the GPS, I have no idea. Depending on where you put it, you could always claim it was damaged by road wear, since it’s likely that they would have placed it on the exterior. 😉

    If the installation damages your car (such as drilling holes into a side panel), you could sue the law enforcement agency for the repairs.

  10. Paddy-O says:

    # 3 otterpkt said, “What if I find one of these devices on my car? Am I free to remove it? free to destroy it? What rights would I have?”

    Yes, you can do with it as you please. The same as if someone intentionally places an object on your property. If you find one I suggest you place it on a police car…

  11. Ah_Yea says:


    I really like the idea of attaching it to a police car. Very funny, and what can they do about it?

    Funny, except when you get that speeding ticket for the wild police chase you weren’t in.

  12. Paddy-O says:

    Would be funny as the cops madly search for your car that is constantly near them.

  13. Wretched Gnu says:

    The cops’ GPSs must be a lot better than mine. Presumably they have to hide them under the car — whereas mine doesn’t work unless there’s nothing but glass between it and the sky; it loses satellite connection when you pull it into the cabin, away from the windshield.

    Can these things really send signals through the body of the car…?

  14. Mac Guy says:

    I say take it off and attach it to something funny like a church bus.

    Or a helicopter.

  15. Faxon says:

    GPS transmitters are about the size of a quarter. They are not the size of a GPS unit on your windshield. Good luck finding a black quarter sticky taped to the inside of your plastic bumper somewhere. Cop Scum 1, People 0.

  16. Tim Yates says:

    A new market will be created for GPS Jammers.

  17. MikeN says:

    Why is the court asking the legislature to do something? That’s not their job.

  18. Mr. Fusion says:

    #17, Lyin’ Mike,

    It’s an intelligence thing. You need some to understand.

  19. Uncle Dave says:

    #17: You’re right. It’s not their job to fix the law. So, they suggested that the legislature — whose job it is to make and change laws — fix the problem. Seems like the correct course of action.

  20. Buzz says:

    Tracking a car continuously.

    It’s not a matter of “rights”; it’s a matter of money. There would be zero complaint if a helicopter of infinite patience could just sit up in the sky and track any specific car of interest–or person, for that matter–watching where it went, 24/7. The cost to do that at $600/hr would be prohibitive, but not impossible.

    Tracking a car that drives in public is no crime. Where the law should concentrate is on the idea of ATTACHING something to a person’s private vehicle violates the law. Now you are potentially forcing someone to divulge information they might protect through invocation of fifth amendment coverage.

    With a tracker device on the car, that car is directly in the custody of the police and the fifth amendment is very strongly against unreasonable custodial interrogation without a warrant.

    When nano-tracking devices become reality (just a matter of time) and any vehicle dusted with them will automatically report its position on a police screen, a whole new set of dividing lines will appear on this blog.

    A law might conceivably be drafted that caused ALL vehicles using public thoroughfares to be legally traced, but would you vote for that?

  21. Rabble Rouser says:

    Welcome to the Police States of America, where the police do not have to obey the law, because they ARE the law.

    Now the courts are in on it. So much for separation of power between the Judiciary and the Executive branches.

  22. Wretched Gnu says:

    MikeN — Learn before you speak. Ever hear of a remand…?

  23. KMFIX says:

    Can I charge the police with vandalism to my vehicle?

  24. Mac Guy says:

    #23 – If anything gets damaged while removing the device, I would say so.

  25. drpiper says:

    I disagree with the courts reasoning and logic. Placing a GPS device on a vehicle is a search. Is not a search for information, also a search. You may not be physically searched, but you are being searched nonetheless. I view it the same as a planting a listening device. The vehicle is private property and the information gleaned in tracking the vehicle can be used against you in a future court case. Just because it is mobile does not mean the same rules do not apply.

  26. Timuchin says:

    Don’t they already do this by hacking our cell phones? Is this a cover up for how “lucky” they already are?

  27. ArianeB says:

    I agree with #25, Judge is wrong, this is a clear violation of the 4th amendment.

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    Basic English grammar says that “against unreasonable searches and seizures” is REDUNDANT term. It is not even necessary!

    It could just as easily be phrased “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, shall not be violated.”

    Furthermore, the phrase “secure in their persons” is the late 18th century way of saying RIGHT TO PRIVACY. (In the 18th century, the “right to privacy” meant the right to use the toilet — aka “privy” — by yourself, and no one thought it necessary to put it in the constitution.)

    Being tagged by a GPS device is clearly a violation of privacy, thus requires a warrant and probable cause etc.

  28. dvdchris says:

    So where is the technology to defeat this crap? I would see a whole industry of gps jammers as well as tech to defeat those blasted red light cameras popping up.

  29. Cap'nKangaroo says:

    I assume that the GPS unit must transmit on some frequency so you can be tracked. This is helpful in detecting and locating the device. If the device is only recording the info for later retrieval, detection would be much harder.

    But if you do find the device on your vehicle, is it not now yours to do with as you please. If a person leaves a flyer on my windshield, I am free to throw it away. If someone places a bumpersticker on my car without my consent, I am free to remove it even though the removal will destroy it.


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