Law Enforcement Use of Global Positioning (GPS) Devices to Monitor Motor Vehicles: Fourth Amendment Considerations [November 22, 2011] [open pdf - 261KB]
"As technology continues to advance, what was once thought novel, even a luxury, quickly becomes commonplace, even a necessity. Global Positioning System (GPS) technology is one such example. Generally, GPS is a satellite-based technology that discloses the location of a given object. This technology is used in automobiles and cell phones to provide individual drivers with directional assistance. Just as individuals are finding increasing applications for GPS technology, state and federal governments are as well. State and federal law enforcement use various forms of GPS technology to obtain evidence in criminal investigations. For example, federal prosecutors have used information from cellular phone service providers that allows real-time tracking of the locations of customers' cellular phones. Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1958 (P.L. 90-351) regulates the interception of wire, oral, and electronic communications. As such, it does not regulate the use of GPS technology affixed to vehicles and is beyond the scope of this report. However, bills introduced in the 112th Congress, such as S. 1212 and H.R. 2168, would address circumstances under which law enforcement may obtain, use, or disclose GPS data. […] Several district and circuit courts of appeals have concluded that law enforcement's current use of GPS technology does not constitute a search, and is thus permissible, under the Constitution. One circuit court has found the duration of GPS tracking to be constitutionally significant. State legislatures and state courts have approached the issue in various ways. Some states have enacted laws requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using GPS technology. Some state courts have resolved the question under their own constitutions. Other state courts have relied on Supreme Court precedent, such as 'United States v. Knotts', 460 U.S. 276 (1983), to derive an answer. This report discusses the basics of GPS technology, society's reliance on it, and some of the related legal and privacy implications. In addition, the report examines legislative and judicial responses on both federal and state levels."
CRS Report for Congress, R41663