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Police Turn to Secret Weapon: GPS Device

"Things that would have seemed fantastic 15 years ago are now routine," he said. "We have to rethink what is a reasonable expectation of privacy."

So far, the U.S. Supreme Court has not weighed in on unwarranted GPS tracking, but supporters point to a 1983 case that said police do not need a warrant to track a car on a public street with a beeper, which relays the car's location to police.

Lower courts that have addressed the issue have not all agreed. The Washington state Supreme Court has ruled that police must obtain a warrant to use the device in that manner, but courts in New York, Wisconsin and Maryland, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago, have held that a warrant is not necessary.

Craig Fraser, director of management services for the Police Executive Research Forum, said tracking technology's new capabilities might eventually require legal adjustments.

"The issue is whether the more sophisticated tools are doing the same things we used to do or are creating a different set of legal circumstances," he said.

Paul Marcus, a law professor at Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, said the debate will only grow stronger as more departments substitute old-fashioned manpower for better and cheaper electronics.

"It is going to happen more and more," he said. "No question about it."


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