GPS: invasion of privacy or cop's secret weapon?

An interesting article from the Los Angeles Times. What does this mean for privacy rights?The units can place a suspect at a crime scene, undermine an alibi or prove fault in an accident. And though privacy rights advocates don’t like the intrusion, courts tend to side with authorities.

GPS technology doubles as crime-fighting tool

By Carol J. Williams

In their cocoons of leather upholstery, soothing high-tech sound systems and automatically-activated personal seat settings, drivers have come to regard their car interiors as mobile extensions of the homes that are their private refuges.

The courts have tended to disagree.

Global positioning systems and factory-installed “black box” event data recorders effectively keep late-model vehicles under 24/7 surveillance, providing evidence that can place a suspect at a crime scene, undermine an alibi, expose a cheating spouse or prove liability in an accident.

Although privacy rights advocates warn that the devices augment an already intrusive network of security cameras, speed-monitoring radars and instantly available databases, police and prosecutors hail the technologies as powerful investigative and forensic tools.

GPS tracking records introduced at trial put a Yolo County man at the scene of arson fires, leading to his conviction last month for setting a dozen blazes in 2006.

A Commerce man suspected of robbery was tracked by Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department detectives who planted a GPS unit in his car, mapping his movements and using the evidence to convince a jury he was guilty of assault with a deadly weapon.

In murder cases in Illinois, Washington and California, including the trial of Scott Peterson for killing his wife and unborn son, the technology has been credited with helping establish guilt.

The evidence is sometimes the product of unwitting self-surveillance. GPS units bought by hikers, hunters, anglers and drivers keep positioning tracks that, if not erased, create a record of a person’s movements.

Event data recorders are now standard equipment in most new cars. They record speed, braking, signaling and other driving behaviors, and can show investigators vital details about what led to a crash.

Wisconsin attorney David A. Schumann, who did some of the earliest legal analysis of GPS potential, points out its usefulness in tracking suspects, locating victims and monitoring released convicts.

Read the entire article over at the Los Angeles Times website.