Germany’s Supreme Court rules GPS police searches constitutional

Germany’s Supreme Court rules GPS police searches constitutional


Germany’s Supreme Court has ruled that police surveillance via the satellite-based GPS and the use of data gained from such observations is not unconstitutional. The Court thus overruled the charge that a member of the “Anti-Imperialist Cell” had been unconstitutionally sentenced to thirteen years in prison on four counts of murder and four bombings.

In their investigations, criminal prosecutors had installed a transmitter in the suspect’s vehicle, which they are allowed to do according to the Act for the Prevention of Illegal Narcotics Trading and Other Types of Organized Crime (OrgKG). After it had been detected and rendered useless, the police installed a GPS receiver in the car. By analyzing the positioning data for roughly two and a half months, the police were able to track the vehicle’s trips and stops almost completely. The technology is said to have considerably helped investigators prove that the suspect committed the four bombings.

However, the suspect filed suit at the Supreme Court to have such tracking via GPS ruled an unconstitutional violation of his basic rights. He argued that GPS surveillance represents an especially severe breach of his privacy and thus requires special legal authority. Therefore, he claimed that the simultaneous surveillance of him and the others facing similar charges is unconstitutional. The data and knowledge gained in the process thus should not have been allowed in court.

However, the judges in the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the technical surveillance of suspects does not generally constitute a breach of privacy. The court found that scope and intensity of the intervention in privacy that takes place when technical instruments are used for surveillance generally do not reach the inviolable core area of the right to lead the kind of life one wants. In addition, the legal regulations fulfill the legal requirements. However, the court called on legislators to keep a close eye on technical developments in light of the rapid changes in information technology and the risks they pose for the protection of basic rights; the court added that laws may have to be adapted to changing conditions.