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8/16/2013
Police officers would face prison time for warrantless GPS tracking of suspects under a proposal pending in Lansing.

Under House Bill 4911, officers would face up to two years in prison, up to a $1,000 fine or both if GPS is used without a warrant to track suspects.

If an incident involving warrantless GPS resulted in a suspect’s injury or death, the officer would face up to four years in prison, up to a $5,000 fine, or both, under the bill.

Livingston County Sheriff Bob Bezotte said officers should be required to obtain a warrant to use GPS to track suspects but should not face legal penalties for failing to do so.

“I think it will be a good law. In probably 99 percent of the cases you can get search warrants in plenty of time to do the GPS and make that part of your investigation,” the sheriff said.

“If we’re out trying to do our job and we make a mistake, the case is usually dismissed. Then, to impose a penalty, a felony, on a law enforcement officer is ridiculous,” however, Bezotte added. “The common theme is they are not going to intentionally try to violate someone’s rights knowing the court is going to view it.”

He said there should be exceptions to obtaining a GPS warrant, such as when a suspect in Michigan crosses state lines.

The bill’s sponsor and privacy advocates noted the measure would be difficult to enforce, particularly if GPS is used in an investigation but not admitted in court.

The bill would implement in state law a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which found it a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s search and seizure protections to affix GPS devices to suspects’ cars.

In the Supreme Court case, it was determined that FBI and Washington, D.C., police affixed a GPS device to Antoine Jones’ car and tracked him for a month in violation of his constitutional rights.

The case was specific to attaching GPS devices to vehicles, but the ruling has come the closest to addressing GPS tracking in general, said Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. GPS devices are factory installed in many cellphones and automobiles.

Weisberg said having a Michigan statute addressing the issue would make clear to law enforcement that warrants are required to use GPS tracking.

Without a law on the books, the door is left open to violating Michiganders’ rights as GPS technology continues to evolve and become cheaper, she added.

Weisberg said reported law enforcement abuse of the Law Enforcement Information Network, or LEIN, system, has given her pause about the potential of officers to use technology for personal gain.

“I know that having the penalty clause in there is probably going to create opposition from all of law enforcement and we may never get the bill passed” with penalties included, she said.

“This isn’t that unusual to have a penalty for someone who is clearly abusing the system. I don’t think it’s enough just for the case to be thrown out,” however, Weisberg added.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, introduced the bill in July. Republican Tom McMillin of Rochester Hills introduced the companion bill that make violating the proposed GPS rules a felony offense.

The bills were introduced during the Legislature’s summer break, which means they may not be considered for a hearing until fall.

Irwin said he introduced his bill because personal privacy is a bipartisan concern that would be heard in the GOP-led Legislature. He said he worked with McMillin because the GOP lawmaker is active on privacy rights on the opposite side of the aisle.

Irwin and McMillin proposed the same measures last year.

Irwin said he is unaware of warrantless use of GPS in Michigan, but that his bill is a proactive measure. He said the bill’s penalty provisions would ensure that law enforcement would secure warrants before using the technology.

“That’s the additional way that this bill would protect citizens against those types of abuses,” he said.

Irwin’s local House colleagues, Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Genoa Township, and Cindy Denby, R-Handy Township, said they are interested in at least reviewing the GPS proposal.

“I think there always has to be a balance between privacy and allowing law enforcement to be able to do their job in a timely manner,” Denby said.

State Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township, was not available for comment for this story.

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