Privacy in the Age of GPS

In 2009, Matthew C. Hug won the landmark case of People v. Weaver in which the New York State Court of Appeals held that GPS surveillance of the citizens of the State of New York without a warrant was unconstitutional. Up until this decision, it was generally the law of the land that individuals had no privacy protection from the intrusion of the government into their comings and goings on public roads. In Weaver, the police had attached, without a warrant, a small “Q-ball” GPS monitoring device. This device was able to track with extreme accuracy, every movement of Mr. Weaver’s vehicle for a period of over 60 days. The government argued that citizens of the State of New York had no interest in privacy in their comings and goings and that the government could essentially place these devices on anyone’s car without any oversight and indeed without any suspicion that the individual was engaged in illegal behavior.

The Court’s decision was, by no means, a foregone conclusion. In fact, the NY Court of Appeals was the first highly nationally respected court to hear this case. This great victory was not achieved by Mr. Hug, alone. Rather, along with the efforts of Mr. Trey Smith, Esq., the National Association of Criminal Law Defenders, the NYCLU and a host of other civil liberties organizations the case was won.

This victory was no small feat, as it required us to convince the Court of Appeals to break with federal appellate courts that had consistently found that Americans do not have an interest in keeping their comings and goings private and away from the government. Further, the Court of Appeals in People v. Weaver, held for requiring a warrant by the slimmest of margins — (4-3 decision).

Since People v. Weaver, was decided, the highest court of Massachusetts has followed suit and also found a reasonable expectation of privacy to ones comings and goings and mandated that a search warrant be procured before GPS tracking devices can be affixed to a citizen’s motor vehicle. At this point, courts across the nation are divided in this issue. With that said, as a result of the decision in Weaver, New Yorkers are protected regardless of how the US Supreme Court ultimately decides.