Monday, September 19, 2011

N.Y. Worker Accuses State of Illegal GPS Spying

Wired - A New York state worker has accused government officials of violating the state constitution after they installed a GPS tracker on his private car and recorded its whereabouts for a month.

The state Department of Labor placed the device secretly on the worker’s car without a warrant and tracked the vehicle 24 hours a day, including on weekends and during a weeklong family vacation, in order to find evidence of time-sheet violations.

But Michael Cunningham, in a petition filed last year that was heard this week in court, said officials went too far in their surveillance of him and his family and violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Cunningham learned of the surveillance only a year after it was conducted when the state charged him with misconduct, citing evidence from the GPS tracking to show that he had claimed pay for hours he hadn’t worked. He was fired from his management job last year.

The New York branch of the American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on his behalf last December, asking the state Supreme Court of Albany County to invalidate the use of such surveillance and order a new labor hearing for Cunningham without the data.

The organization cited a May 2009 New York State Court of Appeals ruling that police must obtain a warrant before using a GPS device to track criminal suspects. The federal Supreme Court is set to weigh in on law enforcement’s use of the devices in its upcoming term.

“Your boss can’t sit in the backseat of your car and watch you, your wife and your children 24 hours a day, but that’s exactly what the Department of Labor did to Mr. Cunningham,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said at the time of Cunningham’s filing. “The courts have already prohibited police from using GPS devices to track people without a warrant. We’re confident they will hold the government agencies to the same standard. The only thing scarier than having a police officer secretly track you is having your boss secretly track you.”            More