Appeals court OKs warrantless GPS tracking by feds

Federal panel upholds lower court decision that federal DEA agents can enter private property sans warrant to plant GPS devices

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In the 10-page ruling, three of the Ninth Circuit judges held that the DEA agents did not violate Pineda-Moreno's constitutional rights. The judges ruled that because Pineda-Moreno's had not taken specific steps to exclude passersby from his driveway -- by installing a gate for posting no trespassing signs, for instance -- he could not claim reasonable privacy expectations.

The Ninth Circuit panel ruled that the actions by the agents were comparable to the delivery of newspapers to the house, or the retrieval of a ball accidentally thrown under a vehicle by a neighbor.

Dissenting Judge Kozinski, however, contended that most people in the U.S don't expect that a car parked in their driveway "invites people to crawl under it and attach a [tracking] device. There is something creepy and un-American about such clandestine and underhanded behavior."

The Ninth Circuit's refusal to rehear the case highlights the continuing struggles that courts around the country are having over law enforcement's use of GPS devices to track an individual's movements.

In a decision also made earlier this month, an appeals court in Washington, D.C., denied the government's claims for warrantless GPS tracking. In that case, the presiding judges ruled that while warrantless GPS tracking might be permissible under some circumstances, continuous tracking over extended periods of time constituted a violation of Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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