November 30, 2023

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Police Need Warrant For Repo GPS Data – Federal Court

If police officers want to use a dealer-installed GPS system to track a driver, they need to get a warrant. That was the ruling Monday by US District Judge Gary Feinerman who ruled in favor of an accused watch thief who was caught because the getaway car, a silver 2003 Lexus RX, had a tracking device installed by the dealer. The issue before the federal court was not the robbery itself, but whether police violated the law by turning to a third party to obtain GPS location data on a motorist without a warrant.

Police in Hinsdale, Illinois, were anxious to solve the March 17, 2017, heist of Razny Jewelers. Three armed men had burst in the store and walked out with Patek Phillipe, Tudor and Frederique Constant watches worth a total of $200,000. They then drove away from a back alley in a silver Lexus SUV. The face of one of those involved was caught on surveillance video, giving the police a big lead in the search for the culprits.

Police eventually found a Lexus matching the getaway car’s description that belonged to Devinn Adams, who was married to Tobias Diggs. Adams had bought the Lexus from a used car dealer, Headers Auto Sales, which installed a GPS tracker on the car so it could be repossessed if the loan payments were not made on time. Headers was more than happy to give the police detectives access to the system that tracked the Lexus, which showed the vehicle belonging to Adams had been in the alley behind the jewelers during the robbery. That was bad news for Tobias Diggs and two other associates who were arrested and charged with the crime.

Diggs caught a break, however, because the police failed to obtain a warrant before accessing the GPS location data. In 2012, the US Supreme Court’s Jones decision said police had to obtain a warrant before attaching a GPS tracker to a car. Prosecutors insisted that this case was different, since Diggs was not the car’s owner and the tracker was already installed by a third party. The judge was not persuaded.

“Given the privacy concerns implicated by the detailed and comprehensive record of Diggs’s movements captured by the Lexus’s GPS tracker, the fact that the police obtained the information from a third party does not overcome Diggs’s claim to Fourth Amendment protection,” Judge Feinerman ruled. “Neither Diggs nor Adams voluntarily turned over the GPS data to Headers, and the government has not identified any decision specifically authorizing law enforcement to gather information from a third party to which the information was not voluntarily provided.”

Since the judge found the location data was collected illegally, he ordered the evidence suppressed. A status hearing has been scheduled for June 10 to work out what this means for the rest of the case. A copy of the ruling is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File US v. Diggs (US District Court, Northern District Illinois)

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