News Release

"GPS" Surveillance Threatens Civil Liberties, Group Says

Washington, DC­ (March 23, 2009) – People v. Weaver, which will consider whether a police officer, in his own discretion, may undertake Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) surveillance of individuals without any judicial oversight, was argued in New York’s highest court on Tuesday, March 24, at 2:00 p.m. Here’s is a link to the video of that argument: Weaver argument. A lower court ruled that police have no obligation to obtain permission of a judge prior to undertaking such monitoring. Members of the public have no way of knowing if their movements are subject to electronic surveillance from which there is no legal protection.

The case has profound implications for the privacy rights of individuals and organizations. Led by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, a diverse civil liberties alliance filed an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief arguing such unfettered surveillance is unconstitutional and ill-advised as a matter of public policy. The ad hoc alliance includes the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the New York State Defenders Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Union for Reform Judaism. The joint brief urges the court to condition GPS monitoring upon judicial issuance of a warrant.

The brief was written by Susan J. Walsh, a partner at Moskowitz, Book & Walsh, LLP in New York City, NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer and NACDL Assistant Director of Public Affairs & Communications Ivan J. Dominguez.

“By its nature, GPS is a valuable tool because it permits long-term, sustained surveillance. But its potential for abuse is staggering. To allow this kind of personal data collection without judicial oversight is an Orwellian nightmare. The minimal time required to obtain a warrant based on probable cause restores balance and cannot credibly be said to impede legitimate law enforcement objectives,” Walsh, lead counsel for the group, said in a statement.

Reimer, executive director of the lawyers’ group, explained the group members’ mutual interest in scrutinizing this nearly-omniscient form of surveillance. “Permitting unlimited, around-the-clock, uninterrupted 24/7 monitoring of an individual’s whereabouts is as much a First Amendment issue as it is a Fourth Amendment issue.” He points out that “the government can learn where a person worships, what clubs they attend, what political parties they participate in, where they sleep, and other personal and private information completely irrelevant to legitimate law enforcement needs.”

The brief is available on NACDL’s Web site at:$FILE/gps.pdf

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NACDL Communications Department

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.