Jamie Grace wrote this article.

Police in the UK increasingly use new monitoring and tracking technology to capture burglars and ‘home invaders,’ as well as car thieves. Suburban houses in high-crime hotspots are turned into Panopticonic dens with enough camera equipment inside them to identify an offender wherever they move within a building.

Cars have been fitted with invisible ink technology to track the people who steal them.

How can we track the offender once they leave the building from which they stole, or abandoned the car they stole?

Police in Washington D.C. are using GPS technology to do just that – raising legal and civil rights concerns from commentators:

So far, the U.S. Supreme Court has not weighed in on unwarranted GPS tracking, but supporters point to a 1983 case that said police do not need a warrant to track a car on a public street with a beeper, which relays the car’s location to police.

Lower courts that have addressed the issue have not all agreed. The Washington state Supreme Court has ruled that police must obtain a warrant to use the device in that manner, but courts in New York, Wisconsin and Maryland, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago, have held that a warrant is not necessary.

UK police have recently been combining the two principles – leaving
GPS-fitted laptops and televisions in their surveillance-enabled
‘capture houses’ so suspects can be identified and then tracked through a network of ‘receivers and handlers’ of stolen goods.

As if that weren’t enough use of GPS technology to aid policing, the Metropolitan Police in London are using it to track themselves – hoping it will improves safety for officers and the response time for the victims of crime.

I would argue that this use of technology is valid, and to be applauded. Although I believe UK government plans such
as the Communications Data Bill are a suspect intrusion into the
personal lives of everyone in the country – the use of GPS-tracking
technology to detect, find and arrest offenders is an intrusion into
the privacy of those who have invited it – principally by breaking into
property that is not their own, or stealing a car they later find has
been tracked.

I believe you can distinguish surveillance of what we do in public (generally good) and surveillance of what we say in private (generally bad).


  1. You make an interesting case, Jamie.
    It’s odd in the USA you can booby-trap your car or boat or bicycle with a GPS device to catch the bad guy, but you cannot booby-trap your home or place of business to catch the thief in action after breaking in — that sort of illogical disconnect in the terms of self-justice-as-jury will have to be decided by the courts, but I am not eager to think a round decision will be drawn any time soon.

  2. In the UK there is something of a policy distinction there – generally speaking, it is up to property owners to deter people from stealing their things (‘target hardening’, to use the buzz term) and it is for the police to apprehend offenders or suspects (perhaps using ‘intelligence-led’ policing methods as described in the article above).
    The part in the middle is not just a gray area. We don’t have enough police officers to catch people red-handed very often – but you’re to be
    very wary of using force as a civilian citizen in apprehending offenders or suspects. You can only use a ‘commensurate’ level of force i.e only hit someone who threatens to hit you first.
    Once the threat is removed, your use of force must stop. So the criminal law here is very subjective, hence the lack of encouragement from the police on ‘ownership justice’.

  3. If crime went down instead of the tax/fine revenue going up and crime I might be more inclined to agree with you.

  4. According to statistics (admittedly those compiled by a Labout Home Office) crime in Britain has fallen by nearly 40% since 1997. One factor in this has to be ‘intelligence-led’ policing methods – which are not cheap.

  5. What is certainly true is that taxes have increased, along with fear of crime, even whilst crime has gone down since 1997.

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