Mon, Dec 25, 2017 - Page 3 News List

Ministry seeks to legalize tracking devices in probes

By Wu Cheng-feng  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

The Ministry of Justice has proposed legalizing the use of tracking and monitoring devices in criminal investigations.

The Supreme Court on Dec. 1 ruled that the use of such devices violates personal privacy when it found a coast guard official guilty of offenses against privacy for installing a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s vehicle in a case involving unlicensed cigarettes.

The official, surnamed Wang (王), was sentenced to 50 days in prison, commutable to a fine, and two years probation.

The ruling prompted the ministry to draft a new law regarding the use of GPS tracking devices in investigations.

The ministry has argued that such devices are helpful to investigations and that their use by investigators is in the public interest.

The proposal calls for granting authorization to investigators through court-issued warrants so that would allow them to use the devices for the duration of their investigations.

A proposal has already been drafted and the ministry is to submit it to the legislature for a review early next year, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

GPS tracking devices have often been used in cases involving drug dealers and the heads of organized crime rings, the official said, adding that investigators privately made the decision to use them, as there was no law prohibiting or allowing their use prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The verdict in the coast guard case came as a shock to law enforcement personnel when it was announced earlier this month, the official said.

The ministry hopes that the draft law would provide investigators with a legal basis and clear procedures when using GPS devices in their investigations, the official said, adding that the ministry has already collected feedback from academics and government agencies.

There is a consensus on the need for a legal mechanism to govern the use of GPS when tracking suspects, but there is disagreement about what act should be expanded to accommodate the new law.

Due to the unpredictable and time-sensitive nature of investigations, the ministry prefers not to have to deal with warrants, Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang (陳明堂) said.

Tracking devices are usually installed while a suspect is away from their vehicle and if investigators are required to obtain a warrant before installing one, that window of opportunity might be missed, he said.

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