Law experts explain police tracking GPS on cell phones - WSMV Channel 4

Law experts explain police tracking GPS on cell phones

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Cell phones can be a valuable tool for tracking down criminals, as police are using information from phone to catch the bad guys, but some believe it is an invasion of privacy for everyone else.

The GPS signal on a cell phone is basically a tracking device, and many people use it for maps or directions. But as police use it to find criminals, it has stirred up the heated issue of public safety versus privacy.

Vanderbilt law professor Chris Slobogin said the issue has already gone before the Supreme Court in Jones v. United States.

"If police are not using a GPS device put on a car, rather just tracking a car or person using signals from a cell phone - in other words, where no trespass is involved - then the Fourth Amendment still does not apply and there is no constitutional regulation," Slobogin said.

Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman said heightened regulations could hamper cases based on urgency.

"There was just a homicide trial where the victim's phone was taken, and they were able to get the longitude and latitude coordinates for where the victims phone was in order to locate the suspects," Norman said.

A court order or subpoena may be required to obtain call records or other data.

"Just to assure that everything is on the up and up, the phone company will demand some kind of court authorization, but it does not need to be a warrant based on probable cause," Slobogin said.

Slobogin has written books on the topic and points to concerns of tracking being used to even catch speeding drivers. But Norman said police are tracking the phone, not you.

"Law enforcement is not tracking everyone going to the grocery store, going to work, where they shop and things like this," Norman said.

When cell phone GPS evidence finally enters the courtroom, it doesn't stand alone. That evidence is paired with other evidence, and then an investigator explains that evidence to the jury to make it clear.

The American Bar Association has introduced some standards for police to notify anyone who has been tracked, but that notification happens after the fact so it won't jeopardize any investigations.

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