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Pennsylvania appeals court allows evidence obtained with GPS technology

A Pennsylvania appeals court has overturned a Chester County Court of Common Pleas [official website] decision banning the use of evidence obtained with global positioning systems (GPS) technology. The three judge panel of the appeals court allowed the admission [Daily Local News report] of evidence that could bring four more alleged burglaries to light. In 2008, GPS tracking devices had been placed in SUVs thought to be used in the commission of several burglaries around Philadelphia. The GPS devices later showed the SUVs at or near the scene of further crimes. Chester County Judge Thomas Gavin originally upheld the movement to suppress the evidence obtained by GPS citing a lack of case history and unease with the invasion of privacy such technology allowed.

The use of GPS technology by police has been a controversial issue in the US recently. In November, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] declined to rehear en banc [JURIST report] a bid by the US Department of Justice to overturn a decision that prevents the government from using GPS technology to track suspects without a warrant. However, courts have struggled with how to apply Fourth Amendment protections to modern technology. In September, a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that at times the government might need a warrant to obtain cell phone data [JURIST report] to track a person's location. In June, the US Supreme Court unanimously held [opinion, PDF] that, even if there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in work-issued electronic devices, that an employer's search of private text messages does not violate [JURIST report] the Fourth Amendment so long as the search is not excessive and is pursuant to a legitimate work-related purpose.

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