US Supreme Court says GPS tracking is a “search”

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WASHINGTON, DC -- In a major decision affecting privacy in the digital age, the United States Supreme Court rules that police may need to get a warrant before putting a GPS tracking device on a suspect's car.  Monday's ruling could have a dramatic impact on how police conduct covert investigations all over the country, and it stands in sharp contrast with previous court rulings at the state and federal level in Wisconsin.

In 2009, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the stalking conviction of Michael Sveum, ruling that when police attached a GPS device to his car, it did not constitute a "search" under the Fourth Amendment and, therefore, did not require police to get a search warrant.  A federal appeals court in Chicago came to a similar conclusion in another GPS case.

A FOX6 investigation last fall found that warrantless GPS tracking has become a common practice among local police departments in Wisconsin, with the assistance of technology experts at the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the act of attaching a GPS device to a suspect's car is a "physical intrusion" that does constitute a search.  The high court stopped short of deciding, however, if such a search is "unreasonable."  That leaves some uncertainty as to whether or not a search warrant would be required in all cases.

A spokesperson for the Milwaukee Police Department tells FOX6 News that they "will comply" with the law "as always."  A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Justice writes, "We are aware of the decision and will comply with its requirements."