Research Paper: Warrantless Use of GPS

Pages: 10 (3202 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Government  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Katzin was then arrested, charged, and convicted. In the appeals, the government argued the GPS device did not require a warrant because it represented "only a minimal intrusion on a vehicle…no part of the vehicle is penetrated…Installation takes a matter of moments, and is much less intrusive than the typical stop and frisk of a person" (Gosztola, 2013). In this case, yet to be decided, the main issue of warrantless GPS surveillance can be seen -- and so can the fact that the government attempts to justify its usage in any way possible. From arguing for the "innocence" of GPS tracking (it's less invasive than "frisking") to arguing that it is not unreasonable to use it in cases such as that involving Katzin (who was suspected of robbery), the government tries to justify its gradual but steady erosion of all sense of privacy so that a defense of privacy against "search and seizure" no longer seems relevant. This is the major problem. As Bruce Moyer (2012) notes,

Prolonged monitoring is much more intrusive of privacy, because it creates an extensive log of a person's behavior, the circuit court said. This collecting of increasing and massive amounts of data about our lives -- and the Orwellian portents of future technologies yet to be invented -- may be the driver that causes the Supreme Court to pause and place limits on police surveillance using potentially intrusive technology.

Yet even Moyer's argument must take a back seat to the fact that real issue is not one of re-interpreting the Constitution or properly understanding terms. The real issue which is not being addressed by the courts is the fact that the government is complicit in the erosion of all sense of the Fourth Amendment. Not only does the government violate it -- it attempts to destroy any and all comprehension of it in the American consciousness. It does it little by little, using devices like GPS tracking and the all too public spectacle of private lives flashed all over screens across America to subdue citizens' concept of a private life. If everything is public, why worry about protecting one's privacy? If the government allows private persons to be followed and harassed by the paparazzi, why should anyone object when the government follows and harasses its citizens with something as harmless as a GPS device? Here is the main ethical consideration that one must eventually come to in a serious discussion of warrantless GPA tracking.

The Better Argument: What Studies and Data Show

Both sides appear to be avoiding the overwhelming reality of the situation and getting mired in legalese. The electronic age is here for better or for worse -- but that should have no bearing on the issue of rights granted by the Constitution. Either side attempts to view the Fourth Amendment in the light of new definitions of "search," "privacy," "intrusiveness" or "reasonableness" -- but doing so only exacerbates the issue. The problem is not one of seeing the Constitution in the right light. The problem is one of enforcing the Constitution.

Studies and data show that the U.S. government is embarking on a new era of totalitarian control using legislative means (Patriot Act, NDAA or FISA, for example) to subvert Constitutional Amendments, technological means (GPS, satellites, drones, etc.) to gather information on suspects, and disasters (such as 9/11, the Boston Bombings) to enact martial law and show forth a new face of policing.

Paul Joseph (2007) shows in Are Americans becoming More Peaceful? that "cultural militarism and the degree to which patriotism, support for military values and for a president during a time of war, and more narrow concepts of what it means to be an American work against the tendency of Americans to become more peaceful" (p. 185). The military-industrial-congressional complex has institutionalized Fascism in America. As Howard Zinn (2007) observes, "The United States has not been invaded for almost 200 years, not since the year 1812, but it has invaded other countries, again and again" (p. 24). The Fascist tendencies of the American government have generated an aura of invasiveness that becomes more and more acceptable in every sphere of life as time goes on -- from the social to the political. There is no element of life that is deemed sacred -- no aspect of life that is not free from such intrusion. One must reveal all things to the government, from one's earned income to one's choice of education.

Today's world is one in which Orwell's expressions are commonplace: terms like "newspeak," "blackwhite," and "thoughtcrime" are heard and felt everywhere by persons who have not yet given up consciousness to the encroaching totalitarian regime. Warrantless GPS tracking is simply one more aspect of this encroaching regime. Like all invasions of privacy, it assumes a control over an individual that it has no right to assert -- at least, not according to the Constitution. As Tom Woods (2008) states, the government's "forty-year record of abuse when its intelligence-gathering power was unchecked does not inspire confidence" (p. 181). In fact, one may cite all the court cases one likes (and one often does) -- but it does not change the reality that there is no precedent set by the U.S. government in which its continuous press for more and more control over civilian lives is ever "relaxed."

What the Constitution Says

The Constitution grants no powers to the federal government assume total control over an individual. On the contrary, the Constitution is set up to limit government's control over individuals -- to protect individuals and States from a tyrannical system of centralized power. As Tom Woods notes in Who Killed the Constitution?, the country is in dire straits when it comes to enforcing the laws that were put in place to protect citizens from the sort of tyranny the Founding Fathers fought. Woods (2008) writes that "in the name of fighting terrorism" anything goes -- just as in Orwell's 1984, anything goes when one is engaged in combating the Enemy (p. 184).

The Fourth Amendment is, in the words of David Myers (2008) a "judicial safeguard intended to check the executive branch's law enforcement powers and ensure individuals are not secure 'only in the discretion of the police'" (p. 3). Woods and the courts have shown how well the Amendment "checks" the executive branch. (Aside from the fact that defendants must appeal decisions which clearly favor a totalitarian reading of the Constitution, individuals are kept in prison for years as they wait for the Court to actually give a verdict that is favorable to a person's privacy). What makes matters worse, of course, is the "war on drugs" which is also a war on a person's right to ingest whatever he sees fit; the "war on terror" is also one more excuse to seize control over what a person is allowed to think, do, or say -- and another reason for the military-industrial-congressional complex to start another war.

The Constitution does not permit any of this -- yet it happens. The Fourth Amendment is very clear about what is protected: Americans have a right "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects" (U.S. Const. Amend IV). A person's effects include one's car, or at least it should. A person's security and privacy should not be violated in any way without warrant -- and yet it is, daily.

The problem is that American society has gotten far too used to it happening. There appears to be no way of turning back, of setting back the clock, of re-evaluating standards, of placing a lid on invasions being undertaken everywhere (whether in foreign countries or in private homes). The usage of warrantless GPS devices is merely one more step in a treacherous staircase that descends into Stalinism.

That is the greatest argument that anyone can make against the usage of warrantless GPS devices. When America becomes so obsessive about capturing "evil-doers" that it neglects to monitor its own self and see whether it has not become the very kind of "evil-doer" it seeks to apprehend, it is in a bad state: a state in which it has lost its sense of self, its identity, its nobility. America was not designed or set up to be a police state -- yet that is what it has become. Hundreds of excuses are given for why such policing is necessary: the courts can argue about whether GPS usage is legal or not. The sad reality is that none of it matters. What use is a Constitution when it cannot even guarantee the "speedy trial" it gives its citizens the right to have?


The usage of warrantless GPA devices are merely the tip of a very dangerous iceberg. That iceberg is the iceberg of totalitarianism -- the face of tyranny which the Constitution was erected to combat. But the Constitution is only as effective and moral as the men who enforce it. When… [END OF PREVIEW]

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