Massachusetts sets rules on GPS tracking by police

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that secret GPS tracking of Massachusetts citizens is permissible under the state constitution provided that police obtain a warrant beforehand. The unanimous ruling written by Justice Judith Cowin upheld the drug trafficking conviction of Everett H. Connolly, a Cape Cod man who was tracked by State Police in 2004 after they installed a GPS device in his mini-van.

“We hold that warrants for GPS monitoring of a vehicle may be issued,’’ Cowin wrote. “The Commonwealth must establish, before a magistrate . . . that GPS monitoring of the vehicle will produce evidence’’ that a crime has been committed or is imminent. The SJC said the devices can be installed for up to 15 days before police must show cause for further tracking. Despite the overheated portrayal of the decision in the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, (both of which hype stories to counter their dance on the edge of bankruptcy), support for the ruling was fairly widespread among law enforcement and defense investigators.