Thursday, August 26, 2010

The High-Tech Police State and the Constitution

Time has an article about a recent decision by the 9th Circuit ruling that the government's covert installation of a GPS tracking device on a suspect's vehicle, parked in his driveway.  There's a lot of high-heat-to-light exchange in it about the coming police state, right before he acknowledges a circuit split on this issue virtually guarantees the Supreme Court will be taking up the question soon enough.

The basic premise of the "it's unconstitutional" argument is that it is (obviously) a violation of one's right to privacy to track your every move by GPS.  If you take that argument, though, I can't see how you can argue that a traditional "stakeout" scenario is somehow less a violation.  The police get the same results (an accounting of one's movements,) merely with far fewer resources expended.  It seems to me that GPS is only a problem because people were willing to trust the police wouldn't abuse the power of the stakeout because of the cost involved.

Please note - I'm not arguing in favor of a police state.  Unchecked GPS tracking of presumed-innocent citizens is deeply disturbing, and a reminder that most Americans only like our freedoms when they're convenient.  But trying to shoehorn a ban on their use into a constitutional right to privacy (itself already a shoehorn into another right,) feels like the wrong answer.

I'm curious to know if anyone thinks they know how to fix this problem effectively.  Ideas?

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