UPDATE1: Top court rules investigation using GPS without warrant illegal

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled it illegal for police to collect global positioning data without a warrant in investigating a man over theft cases in western Japan between 2012 and 2013.

The 15 members of the top court's Grand Bench ruled that collecting data using the global positioning system invades privacy and therefore constitutes a mandatory investigation, which requires investigators to obtain warrants.

But the court also raised doubts about utilizing the existing verification warrant for such an investigation technique, underscoring that new legislation is necessary to cover it.

It sentenced the defendant, 45-year-old Katsushi Iwakiri, who had admitted to stealing, to five years and six months in prison, endorsing lower court rulings.

The legality of warrantless surveillance had been disputed in Iwakiri's trial as the police were found to have installed 16 GPS tracking devices to vehicles of the man and others over a period of roughly six months without obtaining a warrant. Investigators searched for the location of one of the devices over 1,200 times.

The defense counsel claimed such investigations seriously violated privacy and called for new legislation on warrants as the current system cannot cover it.

Prosecutors argued the GPS use was legitimate as it falls under the same category as a stakeout or tailing, which require no warrants. They said during the top court hearing that even if the investigation is seen as mandatory, investigators only need to obtain verification warrants under the current system.

Lower courts were divided about the legality of the GPS use.

The Osaka District Court judged in June 2015 that the police's collection of GPS data without a warrant was illegal and struck out related evidence gathered in the investigation.

The Osaka High Court in March 2016 said it found no serious law violation in the investigation. But it did not refer to whether the police needed warrants to collect GPS data.

Generally, mandatory investigations, such as an arrest or a house search, require investigators to obtain a warrant and present it to the subject prior to the actions.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a statement in January that conditions and procedures for the use of GPS in investigations should be set.

The National Police Agency issued a notice in 2006 on GPS use in investigations, stating it can be used in investigating crimes such as serial thefts, organized crimes involving drug and firearms and kidnappings in which a swift crackdown is needed and tailing subjects is deemed difficult.

It also encouraged prefectural police nationwide in a notice in September to obtain a verification warrant in some cases.

In January, it was revealed the Chiba prefectural police obtained last year a verification warrant and put a GPS terminal on a vehicle and presented the warrant to the subject after the investigation in the first such case in Japan.

In the latest case, Iwakiri had not argued against the sentence itself from the first trial. He told Kyodo News prior to the top court ruling that he is ready to serve his term.

"I have fought (to the top court) because I just could not accept the way they investigated. I want the top court to correct the wrong," he said.

Iwakiri was arrested in December 2013 and indicted on suspicion of stealing vehicles and other items mostly in the Kansai region between February 2012 and September 2013.

==Kyodo

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