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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 March 15 - 21  > Supreme Court: GPS tracking by police without warrant is illegal
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2017 March 15 - 21 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Supreme Court: GPS tracking by police without warrant is illegal

March 16, 2017
The Supreme Court has ruled that it is illegal for police to use Global Positioning System (GPS) devices in criminal investigations without obtaining a court warrant. This is the first time for the top court to make a judgment on the legitimacy of the use of GPS devices in police investigations.

The Supreme Court on March 15 issued this ruling over a serial theft case. The ruling notes that Osaka Police officers in the course of investigations discreetly attached GPS trackers to 19 cars for seven months without obtaining warrants to do so. The court ruled this police action to be illegal.

The court decision points out that the use of GPS in police investigations in general inevitably involve the serious risk of trampling on individual’s right to privacy. It goes on to state that police should be allowed to employ such a method only after receiving court approval. The ruling also underscores the need to create a law to regulate GPS tracking in line with Article 35 of the Constitution which stipulates, “searches and seizures shall not be impaired except upon warrant issued for adequate cause”.

After the ruling, lawyers involved in this case held a press conference in Tokyo. Lawyer Kameishi Michiko said that it is increasingly important to keep a balance between upholding basic human rights and the advances in investigation technology. She stressed that the latest ruling will be a legal precedent which will serve in similar cases in the future.

Currently, police authorities skip the warrant process when they use GPS devices, lift DNA from various materials, or secretly videotape citizens based on internal guidelines set by the National Police Agency.

These investigation techniques are criticized as “grey-zone methods” because they are carried out without a warrant despite their high risk of infringing upon the constitutional right to privacy. The latest top court ruling may put a halt to the use of these controversial methods without the acquisition of legal warrants.
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