Big Brother is Tracking You: A Review of GPS/ Electronic Monitoring
Derek W. Logue of
Posted: 17 May 2019
; Last Update 23 May 2023

I know how to get it off.  I watched them put it on. You can figure out how to get it off. It’s on the Internet. I looked it up.” — Celebrity Home DIY Personality Martha Stewart, to Vanity Fair during her house arrest following her involvement with an insider trading scandal [1]


  • Electronic Monitoring (EM) has been promoted as a “silver bullet” for reducing recidivism, but the few studies on EM as a crime control method has been inconclusive at best.
  • Despite advances in technology in recent years, EM is still rather costly and prone to errors from a variety of environmental and human factors.
  • Electronic monitoring devices cause a potential health risk to the human body and have been found to cause negative psychological effects for both registrants and their loved ones.
  • Agencies promoting EM devices fail to consider indirect costs such as increased resource needs to investigate false alarms, manpower issues, or the inability to force registrants to pay for monitoring, leaving taxpayers to pay millions on programs touted as “cost-efficient”.
  • Courts are split on whether EM violates various constitutional principles, though many courts have found the devices to be punitive and a violation of the 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The act of GPS monitoring is deemed a search by SCOTUS, though it was not necessarily deemed an unreasonable search. It seems these legal battles should focus on individual


“Big Brother is Watching You” is the famous slogan from “1984”, George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel where society lives under a totalitarian regime marked by extreme levels of government surveillance. Residents in the novel lived under constant surveillance by the government, and in today’s society, life has imitated Orwell’s novel in many ways. Americans are seemingly content with allowance of tracking by companies like Google, which monitors your movement even when you turn off your location history.[2]

Incidentally, the modern use of electronic monitoring as a form of surveillance of people placed on supervision proliferated in the year 1984.[3]  

While Americans are concerned about the level of intrusiveness into their personal lives from corporate America, most Americans give little thought to intrusive activity as it applies to registered citizens subject to electronic monitoring. However, the level of intrusiveness should be a concern to all citizens, because increasing erosions of freedom have often began through laws targeting the least popular groups in society. This article specifically covers EM Monitoring (also commonly called GPS monitoring even when the devices aren’t actually GPS, or simply “ankle bracelets/ monitors”), the potential problems associated with EM, and major legal decisions on the use of electronic monitoring for people convicted of sex crimes.


GPS Monitoring has an unusual history involving cows, comic books, and a private prison group.

The concept of electronic monitoring began in the 1960s with the work of William Sprech Hurd and Ralph Kirkland Schwitzgebel (who would later shorten his last name to Gable). They worked together in a corner storefront, working with at-risk youth, parolees, psychiatric patients and student research volunteers to test monitoring equipment the duo created using surplus military missile tracking equipment, portable receivers, battery packs, and stationary radio-frequency radio stations. Early devices were quite large (devices were about 2 pounds and the batteries 3 pounds). Early experiments showed mainly negative results; most subjects rejected the devices as “too intrusive and embarrassing”, and an attempt to publish their findings in the Federal Probation publication was met with ridicule (“we are going to make automatons out of our parolees”).[4]  

The idea of electronic monitoring went nowhere until idea was picked up by Arizona state district Judge Jack L. Love, who was looking for a technological solution to prison overcrowding and escapes. Love, an avid reader of the paper and of technology, had kept a series of Spiderman comics where one of the comic book villains had secretly attached an “oversized ID bracelet on Spiderman so that the villain could locate Spiderman at any time. He had also recalled a news article about electronic monitoring of cattle and by this time, some libraries had electronic bells to deter material from being removed without permission. This led to Love attempting to sell the idea to companies was eventually picked up by Michael T. Goss of Honeywell Information Systems. Goss left Honeywell to start up a new company, National Incarceration Monitor and Control Services, Inc, (NIMCOS). In March 1983, Judge
Love held a press conference to promote electronic monitoring by offering to wear the device himself to show how it worked. While results of the publicity stunt were mixed, the judge had convinced the state’s highest court to allow usage of the device. One negative consequence was the stigma attached to wearing the devices. For example, one offender feared the device was tracking his conversations. The “Albuquerque Experiment” was short-lived as the money soon ran out and no other company wanted to invest in such a high risk venture.[5]

Goss had approached Boulder Industries, which had “milked dry the dairy industry” with cattle monitoring tags, with the GPS monitoring idea. Boulder Industries created a report on the possibility of using electronic monitoring from those on supervision; after reports from skeptical officers who found GPS monitoring to be “too new, too much work, threatened their jobs, and shouldn’t be done by a private company,” Boulder Industries’ president, David Hunter, found the skepticism to be a “real business opportunity.” Over the years, Boulder Industries would invest into NIMCOS and buy up smaller monitoring companies, and would later merge with the controversial private prison company GEO Group as a subsidiary.[6]

Rival inventor Thomas Moody, who ran a burglar alarm business with his father, became aware of the Albuquerque experiment and convinced Monroe County, Florida Judge Allison DeFoor to try an “In-House Arrest Program” using the new technology in 1984. In turn, Judge DeFoor transferred the pilot program to Palm Beach County, Florida. Other competing monitoring companies soon popped up across the USA, and the use of electronic monitoring spread. By 2014, it was estimated that 140,000 electronic monitoring units were utilized across the USA.[7]  


Around the mid-2000s, states were eager to herald GPS monitoring as the latest trend in monitoring those on the registry, especially following the high-profile rape-murder of Jessica Lunsford. By 2006, 22 states had passed some form of electronic monitoring law. [8]  By 2007, that number had jumped to 40 states, with at least 15 states passing laws for lifetime GPS monitoring for at least some registrants.[9]  

Early studies found GPS monitoring led to high levels of false alarms. In 2005, Washington State performed a test run with “passive” devices (passive devices merely record where the person has been and must be uploaded to read, whereas active devices send out constant signals), and  found 4000 “notices of violation,” the vast majority of which were false alarms due to technical difficulties. [10]  In Arizona, a 2007 legislative study found more than 35,000 false alerts by 140 subjects wearing the GPS-monitoring devices. “False alarms number in the thousands in some jurisdictions, straining manpower and casting doubt on the viability of GPS as a
tracking tool for high-profile felons.”[11]

There are a few anecdotal examples of false alarms that exemplify the disastrous results of a false alarm. In 2008, David Pollitt of Connecticut was arrested for a parole violation because his GPS monitor claimed he had left his home for 15 minutes. Despite protests from Pollitt and his sister that he was in the backyard at the time, he was arrested. Ultimately, it was determined the device had malfunctioned and could not give an accurate reading. “John Kaloidis, Pollitt’s lawyer, said a prosecutor in New London Superior Court withdrew the warrant after receiving letters from Pro-Tech Monitoring, which operates Pollitt’s GPS tracking system…

Kaloidis blamed political pressure for the rush to make an arrest. Gov. M. Jodi Rell called for Pollitt to be returned to prison Wednesday on the alleged probation violation. Kaloidis accused Rell of leading the ‘lynch mob’ against his client. ‘The governor jumped and convicted this man without knowing any of the facts or doing an investigation,’ Kaloidis said. ‘She was playing politics.’” [12]  Troy Hawkins, who spent time on a monitor in Wisconsin, reported that he was taken to jail for five days when a power outage caused his device to lose connection.[14]

Proponents may argue that technological advances have greatly improved accuracy and clarity in cellular phone technology in recent years, but even the latest smartphones suffer from certain problems; it is hard to pick up a signal in a canyon, a skyscraper, or any place where there are plenty of electronics, metal, or bad weather. If your high-end smartphone cannot pick up a signal under certain conditions, then you should realize that GPS monitors have the same issues. Below are some technical issues that could interfere with GPS signals:

  1. “GDOP (geometric dilution of precision) or PDOP (position dilution of precision): Describes error caused by the relative position of the GPS satellites. Basically, the more signals a GPS receiver can “see” (spread apart versus close together), the more precise it can be. From the observer’s point of view, if the satellites are spread apart in the sky, then the GPS receiver has a good GDOP. But if the satellites are physically close together, then you have poor GDOP. This lowers the quality of your GPS positioning potentially by meters.”
  2. Atmosphere Refraction: “The troposphere and ionosphere can change the speed of propagation of a GPS signal. Due to atmospheric conditions, the atmosphere refracts the satellite signals as they pass through on their way to the earth’s surface. In order to fix this, a GPS can use two separate frequencies to minimize propagation speed error. Depending on conditions, this type of GPS error could offset position anywhere from 5 meters.”
  3. “Multipath Effects: One possible error source in GPS calculations is the multipath effect. Multipath occurs when the GPS satellite signal bounces off of nearby structures like buildings and mountains. In effect, your GPS receiver detects the same signal twice at different ranges. However, this error is a bit less concerning and could cause anywhere from 1 meter of position error.”
  4. “Satellite Time and Location (Ephemeris): The accuracy of a GPS satellite’s atomic clock is one nanosecond for each clock tick. That’s pretty impressive stuff. Using trilateration of time signals in orbit, GPS receivers on the ground can obtain accurate positions. But due to the inaccuracy of satellite’s atomic clock being synchronized, this can offset a position measurement by 2 meters or so. The ephemeris information contains details about that specific satellite’s location. But if you don’t know their exact location at a particular time, this can be a source of error.”
  5. “GPS Differential Correction: GPS receivers improve accuracy using two receivers because ground-based receivers can take accurate measurements of the error. As long as the stationary GPS receiver detects the same satellite signals as your GPS receiver, it can send you correction data based on its precisely surveyed location. This augmented system broadcasts the corrected error in real-time along with the GPS signal. As a matter of fact, this is the principal idea of a satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS) and can provide sub-meter GPS accuracy.”[14]

To summarize the technical jargon, certain factors such as the position of a person in relation to a GPS satellite or tower, the atmosphere, or errors within the device itself can degrade accuracy. This accuracy is important at times where precision is needed, such as when a person is on house arrest and cannot leave his yard. Inaccuracies lead to false alarms, which in turn costs taxpayer dollars.

Below is a list of situations where GPS might be inaccurate:

  • Satellite signal blockage due to buildings, bridges, trees, etc.
  • Indoor or underground use
  • Signals reflected off buildings or walls (“multipath”)
  • Radio interference or jamming
  • Major solar storms
  • Satellite maintenance/maneuvers creating temporary gaps in coverage
  • Improperly designed devices that do not comply with GPS Interface Specifications
  • Faulty mapping software issues, including Incorrectly drawn maps; Mislabeled businesses and other points of interest; Missing roads, buildings, communities, etc.; and Incorrectly estimated street addresses[15]

Even when the devices are accurate, there are ways to circumvent monitoring, like simply removing the monitor, but those on GPS can still commit the crimes even with the ankle bracelets attached. While proponents of GPS might argue the feeling of being monitored might deter crime, many fail to add the fact that numerous crimes still occur by people wearing ankle bracelets. In 2013, the Washington Post reported on stats obtained from District of Columbia’s Pretrial Services Agency, which found “of 1,351 defendants who were released with GPS ankle bracelets to track their movements, 110 were arrested and charged with new crimes. Nearly a dozen crimes were violent, including armed robbery, assault and attempted child sex abuse. In past years, defendants in the program have been charged with murder and rape.”[16]

Eric Markowitz brings up a few key concerns about GPS monitoring:

  1. Whether GPS reduces crime: “But a larger problem persists. If convicts and parolees are wearing electronic monitors and still committing crimes, it begs the question: Does electronic monitoring really even work? Whether electronic monitoring has an effect on recidivism rates is a notoriously complex challenge that’s been studied by criminologists for two decades.” Whether there are sufficient resources to use the systems properly: “Even with the technology constantly pinging the system, police often lack boots on the ground to actually prevent violations in progress. ‘The biggest problem is an underestimation of manpower needs,’ Correct Tech President George Drake] says. This could have serious implications. If the ping comes from the data center, but the police are responding to other calls, it might take several minutes, or even hours, to respond. By the time they do, it may be too late. There’s a bit of irony here. The costs of GPS technology have dropped, which have made electronic monitors more affordable for state agencies. But while the devices themselves are affordable, they require a response infrastructure that many local police precincts simply can’t afford.”
  2. Some people can remove ankle bracelets: As a sort of strange byproduct of his work, Drake has become something of an expert on human anatomy; he has spent years comparing the ratios of the circumference of human ankles to the circumference of heels. He uses that research to consult with manufacturers, who are eager to design products that are impossible to slip off. “People who have stubby ankles and small feet—it doesn’t take much to slide it over the heel,” he says. Many of the newest models are made with accelerometers and motion detectors, so that when people stay still too long (or have managed to slip off the tracker), it sends out an alert to local police. They’re also made with sensors, so that if a parolee tries to crack open the hard plastic and remove the GPS chip, it also sends out an alert.[17]  

A 2008 International Association of Chiefs of Police report reported a number of potential advantages and disadvantages of GPS monitoring systems:

  • Active GPS Systems (Active systems allow the PTD to transmit offender location information to a monitoring center in near-real time. Therefore, active GPS systems require a cellular telephone to communicate location information and determine whether a transmitter is out of range or whether someone has tampered with it.)
    • Advantages: Seek to alleviate prison overcrowding, Immediate response capability, Data reporting in near-real time
    • Disadvantages: High daily cost, Reliance on wireless data service coverage, Labor intensive, Require immediate agency response, Greater agency liability, Tracking device size and weight
  • Passive GPS Systems (Location and time data are stored in the PTD, and this information is downloaded when the PTD is charged each day. The charger is connected to a landline telephone to transfer information to the monitoring center.)
    • Advantages: Small, lightweight device, Can be independent of wireless data services, Lower daily cost, Less labor intensive
    • Disadvantages: “After-the-fact” tracking data, No immediate notification of zone violations[18]

With the proliferation of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) as the dominant form of monitoring, the potential of legal abuses, such as the ability of the devices to collect data beyond location tracking, exists. Defense lawyer Fermín L. Arraiza-Navas had discovered at least two of his clients were being monitored with a GPS ankle monitor that had phone capabilities (during a meeting with one of his clients, the client casually remarked that “They speak to me through that thing”). Arriza-Navas cancelled the meeting and filed a motion to have the GPS device removed from his client. As reported of The Crime Report:

“During the court hearing on the motion, his worst suspicions were confirmed. A Corrections Department agent, who works at the Puerto Rico Pretrial Services Office’s monitoring center for defendants free on bail, placed a GPS ankle bracelet on the court podium and made a call from the device to a technician of the SecureAlert company, which provides them at a facility in Sandy, Utah. The technician, who was addressed through the GPS ankle bracelet—which has a phone feature—testified that, although the device is supposed to vibrate when activated from Utah, the feature could be turned on without warning. Superior Judge Elizabeth Linares ordered the device removed within the Court’s cell area for the duration of the meeting between the defendant and his defense counsel…During the court hearing, Arraiza-Navas noted that no alarm or signal was heard or seen when the electronic communication was allegedly finished. In his motion to the court, the lawyer stated that the system’s operators had informed his office that the device was able to ‘activate unilaterally’ from the command post and that “the conversations could be heard.”[19]

There are also questions concerning who actually owns the data and just how exactly the data is utilized. As reported by Wired in 2018:

“About 70 percent of all electronic monitoring devices have GPS capacity, (up from 2.5 percent in 2005). Where does all that tracking data go? Mostly, we don’t know. The data typically belongs to a department of corrections or local sheriff’s department, but several branches of law enforcement often have access. In some cases, the contracted monitoring firm owns the data. In Germany, GPS tracking data must be deleted after two months, but that’s not the case in the US. In the US, at least two companies, Attenti (formerly 3M) and Satellite Tracking of People, have contracts that specify the data will be kept a minimum of seven years, often long after the person is off the monitor.”[20]

Studies on electronic monitoring are scant, but the studies have shown little, if any impact on crime. A 2005 study failed to find any correlation between electronic monitoring and lowered subsequent criminal activity.[21]  A 2012 study funded by the National Institute of Justice of 516 high-risk sex offenders found that offenders who were not subjected to GPS monitoring had roughly 2.5 times more sex-related parole violations than those who were monitored by GPS technology (though there was little difference between the two groups for types of parole violations). However, it must be noted that those in the GPS group were also more intensely supervised than those who were not subject to GPS monitoring. It must also be noted that the sample size was relatively small; only 13 GPS registrants and 7 registrants were rearrested for a sex crime during that period.[22]  

Despite little evidence showing any real crime deterrent value of placing those convicted of sex crimes on electronic monitoring, and despite complaints of increased workload (especially with monitoring those who are transient), Despite the rarity of studies defending GPS as a crime deterrent, interviews with parole agents and local law enforcement personnel found that they merely believe that GPS technology as a tool for its ability to locate parolees, track their movements, and provide valuable information in solving crimes.[23]  


The Electronic Devices themselves cause concerns with the physical and mental health of those wearing the devices.

Physically, those subject to EM have complained at times of lower back problems, foot numbness, scarring, and bleeding. EM devices heat up when charged, causing skin irritation for the parolee. Ankle monitors cause as much physical harm as they cause psychological harm. For parolees who must wear ankle monitors for years, the physical side effects may be irreparable. Also, having to constantly recharge the devices means parolees must schedule trips and everyday events around the recharge schedule, leading to psychological stress.[24]

Electronic devices interfere with conducting medical procedures like MRIs, mammograms, X-Rays and CT scans, yet most states lack any rules or regulations for removing EM devices in cases of emergencies. reported in 2018 that “California’s rules require the person to “carry an activated … device to the medical procedure” (e.g., into the operating room).” Rules regarding EM can interfere with any medical emergency: Dustin Tirado of Los Angeles reported to that he cut his hand in a domestic accident. The wound was bleeding profusely, so he headed for the hospital, phoning his parole officer to let him know. When Tirado arrived at the hospital, police were waiting. They took him into custody, and he spent 10 days in prison before being released.[25]

There is an ongoing debate regarding the link between cell phones and cancer, so the debate extends to EM technology, which is similar in form and structure to cellular phone technology. “After evaluating several studies on the possibility of a connection between cellphones and glioma and a noncancerous brain tumor known as acoustic neuroma, members of the International Agency for Research on Cancer — part of the World Health Organization — agreed that there’s limited evidence that cellphone radiation is a cancer-causing agent (carcinogenic). As a result, the group classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to people.”[26]

In the fall of 2018, the federal government’s National Toxicology Program released its final report on whether cellphones cause cancer. “The final verdict: cellphone radiation may sometimes cause tumors in rats at high, continuous doses, but not in people. The report leaves open the possibility that the kind of radiation produced by cellphones might have the potential to cause cancer, but it does not answer the question of how that might happen. The findings are unlikely to satisfy many people. ‘The National Toxicology Program concluded there is clear evidence that male rats exposed to high levels of radio frequency radiation like that used in 2G and 3G cell phones developed cancerous heart tumors,’ the National Institutes of Health, parent agency of the NTP, said in a statement. The final report doesn’t change much that the researchers said in a preliminary report released in February. It found there is evidence that bathing rats in certain types of cellphone radiation for their entire lives might raise the risk of certain cancers in some of the rats. The findings do not apply to people, they said. ‘The exposures used in our studies are not directly comparable to the exposures that humans typically experience when using a cellphone,’ the National Toxicology Program’s John Bucher told reporters. The NTP team did not expose the rats to the 4G frequencies now in common use.”[27]

While humans may not be exposed to radio frequency waves 24/7 on their cellphones, those wearing GPS devices are strapped to those devices 24/7 for weeks, months, or even years. The rats in the 2018 report were also exposed to RF radiation 24/7.

Studies on the effects of cell phone radiation are relatively new, so not much is currently known about the long-term effects. However, some studies have found that cell phone use alters glucose metabolism, although the results are mixed and not definitive. [28]  

Being subjected to EM can cause psychological problems to parolees and their families. According to The Associated Press, a 2011 report showed that 43% of the surveyed 5000 parolees said that they believed ankle monitors had negative effects on their spouses due to the inconvenience the monitor caused. Lois DeMott, mother of a parolee with mental health issues, stated, “I have to plan my whole life around his schedule. It affects whatever support system the person has.” Olivia Thomson added, “Others aren’t allowed to participate in birthday celebrations or other family get-togethers, because it may mean that the parolee isn’t home by curfew. Imagine what a feeling it is to know that your sickly grandmother has reached her 90th birthday and you can’t attend. Imagine feeling too ashamed to attend your own daughter’s 8th birthday because you don’t want the other children to see your monitor. Imagine not being allowed to go on a vacation to celebrate your 10th wedding anniversary because of your monitor. As anyone can see, ankle monitors are not only shackles with an exorbitant cost for the parolee, they have a collateral side effect on the entire family.”[29]

William Lally teaches a class on Contemporary Corrections at Eureka College in Illinois; as part of his class, he places students on simulated “house arrest” for a 72-hour period. If the students violate any part of the mock arrest, they lose a grade. During non-curfew hours, students were required to venture out ino society with others while wearing an EM device. At the end of the assignment, each student was tasked with writing about the experience. The professor found that “Some try to cover up their device by wearing long pants or sweats, while others wear shorts or dresses to make their bracelet that much more apparent…  Stories range from subtle reactions like parents pulling their children closer as students pass by to more blatant responses, such as a woman pulling out a bottle of pepper spray. Most involve odd looks and a noticeable attitude change when people they are interacting with eventually notice the device… Regardless of gender, age or social status, all wrote about how their image of themselves had temporarily changed while wearing the bracelet. Many students reported they felt a sense of shame. Still others described a loneliness and disconnection from their friends and family.” Put another way, EM devices are seen as a modern-day Scarlet letter, according to the professor.[30]  

If college students felt shame, fear, and discomfort just from wearing ankle bracelets, then it should stand to reason that the psychological impact for those forced to wear these devices would experience more severe psychological problems from the devices.

A 2011 report from the US Department of Justice report noted severe difficulties in obtaining employment while on electronic monitoring: “Offenders and officers alike were almost unanimous in their belief that the visibility of the monitoring systems makes it much more difficult for offenders to obtain and keep a job. Offenders told stories of job interviews taking on a different tenor as soon as an interviewer noticed the devices. In addition, sometimes the systems would issue an alarm because the signal had been lost when offenders were inside a building. They would then have to take a break from work and walk outside, often for 15 minutes, before the signal was reestablished. This did not please employers. Of the offenders interviewed, 22 percent said they had been fired or asked to leave a job because of electronic monitoring. Of that group, 32 percent assigned the cause to signal loss. Others cited various reasons, such as limits on their flexibility (related to work hours or distance from work). Five percent said they were fired because their bosses did not want customers to see the monitoring devices.[31]

Electronic Monitoring devices have become synonymous with monitoring for people convicted of sex crimes, so those monitored by EM devices who are convicted of other crime types are concerned about being confused for a “sex offender.” Some said media
reports about monitoring focus mostly on sex crimes, which may lead the public to believe that everyone who is monitored is a sex offender. One offender said the electronic monitoring system “serves as a scarlet letter.” Another reported, “Every time it goes off, we think the police are coming to arrest me.” Perhaps the most poignant comments concerned the effects on children. One offender said, “I’ve got a child who straps a watch on his ankle to be like daddy.” Another said, “When it beeps, the kids worry about whether the probation officer is coming to take me to jail. The kids run for it when it beeps.” In addition, 43% of offenders and 89% of parole/ probation officers felt electronic monitoring devices have a negative impact on the families of those forced to wear the devices.[32]  

Equating EM devices with sex offender status also means that registered persons have difficulties making friends.  One Florida study on the impact of EM devices found that 29% claimed that it is difficult to make new friends, 16% said they have disassociated
themselves from their old friends, and 5% said that it embarrasses their friends, makes them feel badly, and/or creates an inconvenience, and another 5% said that they have no friends.  The varying impacts on offenders’ friendships resonate in their responses: “What friends?”; “They make jokes: ‘Who’s that with the TV screen on his side?”; “I try not to let them know I am on EM, (and hide the device).”; “I’ve cut off ties with my friends because I can’t go anywhere. I have no friends.”[33]

About half (49%) of those on Florida’s EM tracking system reported notable mental discomfort: “Wearing an ankle bracelet and having to carry a MTD at all times may cause offenders embarrassment and shame, and the stigma and perceptions attached to EM may damage offenders’ reputations in their communities and relationships with their families. As one offender noted, ‘Someone asked me what I did and when I became a murderer…Of the 49% who felt embarrassed, 25% claim that the EM bracelet gives a negative impression to others, as illustrated by an offender: ‘It’s like painting a flag on your forehead saying ‘I’m a criminal!’’ Nineteen percent said that people ask questions when they see the bracelet, and 7% say they lie about EM or try to hide the equipment.”[34]

Most offenders (71%) claimed that news stories about EM do affect how people perceive them. Of those who noted the media’s affect, 74% said it stigmatized them. According to one offender, the media “creates the false impression that I’m some worse kind of offender.” Another said, “The news has defined it as being for child molesters only, which isn’t true; so it puts a target on you.”[35]


Electronic Monitoring has also been touted as a cost-effective alternative to incarceration or intense supervision by a uniformed officer. However, the costs associated with electronic monitoring can pose a great financial burden for registrants and taxpayers alike.

For registrants, the costs of EM can be overwhelming. Registered citizens have been found to have levels of unemployment, poverty, and welfare dependence at levels far higher than the average American citizen.[36] reported in 2018 that, “People on the monitor not only must live with round-the-clock surveillance; most also must pay for the privilege. Fees range from $5 to $25 a day, in some cases making a person’s monitor fees more than their monthly rent. Missing a payment has serious consequences. In Kentucky, if you are three days late, authorities can send you back to prison… Many states still require a landline telephone (yes, a landline) for their monitors, adding a cost many households have long since struck from the budget. In Iowa, if you lose or damage the tracking component of the device, you’ll pay $795 to replace it; a missing power cord sets you back $55.”[37]

Olivia Thompson reported in 2018, “The set-up fee for ankle monitors is between $175 and $200. The daily fee ranges from $5 to $40. For indigent parolees, these fees are exorbitant. Some parolees must wear ankle monitors for years. Others are forced to wear ankle monitors for a lifetime. Years of ankle monitoring use, puts parolees deeper and deeper in debt, as they pay for every day’s use.”[38]

Besides direct costs of being on the program, there are indirect costs with the use of EM devices. The stigma attached to wearing EM devices, as well as the frequent need to recharge the devices, interfere with the ability to obtain work. The Department of Corrections for Tennessee reported that 22% of the surveyed parolees wearing ankle monitors lost their job as a direct result of wearing the monitor. Thompson added, “It’s ironic that wearing an ankle monitor prevents parolees from getting work, because ‘if they would have been deemed an appropriate candidate for (work release), [they are put on ankle monitors].’” Because many parolees are the primary or sole providers for their families, parole violations due to false alarms cause great financial burdens to the family.[39]  

Because many registrants cannot pay such exorbitant fees, taxpayers must pay for this service. “In South Carolina, most parolees wearing ankle monitors can’t pay the entirety of fees, so that less than 1% of fees attached to ankle monitors are actually gained by the state. This means South Carolina taxpayers pick up a 3.5 million tab from the uncollected fees. In Wisconsin, less than half of ankle monitor fees were collected in 2015 and only around 30% was collected in 2012-2014. Ankle monitors create a cycle of poverty and cost taxpayers money.”[40]

The 2010 Florida State Study found “The monthly EM costs determined by the courts were waived for a little more than one-third of the offenders (39%). Among the remaining 61% of offenders who were ordered to pay, 53% percent were not paying each month, and 15% were paying less than $50. Additionally, 12% reported paying 51­100 dollars, and 6% paid 101-200 dollars. Fourteen percent said they paid more than 201 dollars per month. The average monthly cost paid by offenders was 64 dollars. Additionally, offenders may be required to pay for court-ordered supervision. Similar to the EM costs, close to 1 in 3 (32%) of the offenders had this fee waived by the court. Among those that do have to pay, 48% claim to have not paid anything, 28% report paying less than 50 dollars, 12% pay between 51 and 100 dollars, 5% pay 101 to 200 dollars, and the remaining 5% pay over 201 dollars per month. An average supervision payment was 38.70 dollars per month.”[41]

In California, for fiscal year 2009–10, $12.4 million to monitor sex offender parolees with GPS; for fiscal year 2013–14, the department spent $7.9 million. The state’s Office of the Inspector General “determined that the costs associated with using GPS to
monitor sex offender parolees fall within five categories: vendor contracts, contract management, parole agent laptops, parole agent training, and parole agent cell phones. Each of these categories represents services or equipment that would not be otherwise
necessary to supervise sex offender parolees if the department did not use GPS… the majority of the costs relate to payments the department makes to the vendor(s) who provides, operates, and maintains the GPS devices.”[42]

As noted in the California Office of the Inspector General’s 2014 report, costs of the program are passed on to the registrant on GPS monitoring, but since many are unable to pay, the taxpayers must absorb the cost: “California Penal Code Section 290.3 directs that an amount equal to $100 for every fine imposed by the courts on sex offenders shall be directed to CDCR to defray the cost of parolee GPS supervision. California Penal Code Section 3000.07(b) requires offenders to pay for the cost of GPS monitoring to CDCR, if financially able to pay. According to CDCR, funding collected under these two statutes has not come close to covering the costs of GPS. Total revenue of $14,397.31 was generated in fiscal year 2013–14 related to CDCR’s portion of California Penal Code Section 290.3. Of that total, $13,734.41 is for first conviction fines and $662.90 is for second conviction fines.”[43]

For the government, GPS monitoring also has indirect costs related to equipment, manpower, and the time investigating or detaining parolees because of alarms that turned out to be erroneous. A 2017 Brookings article noted the following:

“In 2011, California officials conducted tests on the monitoring devices worn by 4,000 high-risk sex offenders and gang members, and according to the LA Times, found that “batteries died early, cases, cracked, tampering alerts failed, and reported locations were off by as much as three miles”. Parolees were able to thwart the devices by covering them in tinfoil or going indoors. Parole officers were inundated with as many as a thousand alerts per day, and meaningless alerts led officers to worry that they were missing actual instances of fleeing parolees.”

“Trouble with monitoring devices is not limited to California. An audit in Tennessee found that 80 percent of alerts from offender monitoring devices were not checked by officers. Similar issues came to light in Colorado and New York when officers missed or ignored repeated alerts of device failure and then several parolees committed violent crimes. Officers in Florida were so overwhelmed with alerts that they stopped all real-time notifications, save those relating to device removal, and as a result, did not notice when one parolee broke his curfew 53 times in one month before killing three people.”

“Mandating standards and testing protocols prior to the roll out of new monitoring devices could forestall problems with the current system. California is an apt case study. A state-wide monitoring program launched in 2008, using devices from 3M and Satellite Tracking of People. However, it wasn’t until 2011 that officials tested the devices rigorously, and found that 3M’s devices failed 46 of their 102 tests. California quickly removed thousands of the devices and replaced them with models from another manufacturer’s model. Had rigorous tests been a pre-condition to starting an electronic monitoring program, California might have averted the crisis.” [44]

Even Robert S. Gable, credited as one of the fathers of electronic monitoring (as noted in the History section of this article), has publicly expressed concerns with overuse of EM devices in our current times. Gable writes, “Although electronic monitoring systems have improved dramatically since I first experimented with them back in the 1960s, I view today’s widespread use of such equipment as fundamentally misguided… One reason these systems have become so popular is that house arrest and mobile surveillance seem to add a layer of safety while simultaneously providing a cost-effective escape hatch for the problem of prison overcrowding. But traditional house arrest (with a stationary RF unit in the house) was never intended to cure the misguided public policy that put too many people behind bars in the first place. It was intended simply to verify that a nonviolent offender was obeying curfew hours… Electronic monitoring isn’t always about keeping the public safe: It is often intended as a form of punishment in itself…surveillance technology has spawned a profitable industry, expanded the monitored population, and infringed on humanistic values without showing a significant long-term reduction in crime.”[45]

Gable studied under psychologist BF Skinner, famous for his teachings on positive reinforcement. As a positivist, Gable feels that a more positive reinforcement solution would be helpful: “Decades of psychological research indicates that a combination of punishment and reward is the best way to rehabilitate offenders. Offenders tend to push limits and ignore threats. (That, after all, is why they landed in jail or prison.) Therefore, punishment that is swift, certain, and yet moderate is a necessary component of rehabilitation. But rewards are even more important.” Gable hasn’t completely abandoned the idea of technical monitoring but believes a smartphone would be a more sensible idea than use of an increasingly outdated technology that carries a stigma.[46]  


Privatization of criminal-justice related services have been a matter of controversy in recent years, and with the controversial GEO Group’s acquisition of Behavioral Industries, critics of privatization of criminal justice services should be alarmed. Private companies have been known to offer EM devices at no-cost to government agencies while simultaneously harassing those forced to wear them to cover the costs. William Edwards, a -year-old former office clerk accused of a drug crime, was made to pay $25 a day to wear a GPS-tracking ankle monitor between January and April 2017. “You just think about the opportunity of being home with the people who care about you,” he said. “But it was horrible. A living nightmare.” Edwards was never convicted, and the charges were later dropped, but he “spent months as a prisoner in his own home, constantly harassed for money by LCA, the company that provided the tracking service. LCA demanded to know what his girlfriend earned so they could base their ‘means-tested’ fees on his household income. ‘I felt like I was dealing with a mafia loan shark,’ he said.”[47]

As noted in Prison Legal News in 2012, “The role of private corrections companies in electronic monitoring programs raises several questions. First, such firms exaggerate the cost savings of EM by simply comparing per diem costs of EM with those of incarceration. The comparison is not that simple. Many people who are placed on electronic monitoring would not have been incarcerated before the advent of EM technology; they would have been supervised non-electronically, a practice that is still prevalent.”

“Second, comparing per diem costs between prison and EM distorts the reality. A large part of corrections costs are fixed. For example, if 10% of a state’s prison population was released on electronic monitoring, staffing and other over-head costs would not decrease by 10%. Hence, the savings delivered by electronic monitoring need to be calculated holistically, not by merely using the rosy estimates of those who advocate EM, including the companies that offer such services.”

“Then there is the need to generate profit. At present, EM programs are increasingly turning toward user fees, typically $10–15 per day plus startup costs. While such fees don’t present a problem for the wealthy, like Stewart or Lohan, most people on parole or probation fall in an entirely different income bracket. The questionable history of firms like The GEO Group in terms of prisoner abuse, corruption, lobbying and political contributions foreshadows a range of misdeeds and improper influence with regard to electronic monitoring.”

“At the most basic level, a continual incremental increase in user fees due to the need for EM companies to generate profit would further disadvantage the predominantly poor people of color who are placed on electronic monitoring. Further, since people who complete their term of EM no longer generate revenue, monitoring companies have a financial incentive to push for longer terms of supervision or stricter rules that would lead to increased recidivism.”[48]

Another potential abuse for GPS devices arose in 2007 when Ohio State Senator Tim Grendall promoted a GPS detector from a Cleveland-based company called “Offendar” (A portmanteau of the words Offender and Radar). Offendar LLC marketed the devices a “personal threat detection system featuring a key-fob sized electronic device.” The device would give the person carrying it “a vibrating, auditory or visual alarm when a sex offender or other person wearing a court-ordered electronic ankle bracelet is in the immediate vicinity.”… “The public wants more than after-the-fact tracking of sex offenders. Many people want to know when a threat is in the vicinity so they can take steps to protect themselves and their children before something happens,” according to the company’s presentation.[49]  While the idea failed to gain traction at this time, it is only a matter of time before other companies do successfully promote this device. It would likely lead to an increase in vigilante violence against those wearing the devices.


The 2008 International Chiefs of Police report opined on legal challenges, “GPS monitoring of sex offenders presents a range of potential legal issues, which may or may not have significant court precedent. How will courts: View cases involving a failure to respond to an alert that results in a new crime? View cases involving a new crime committed when the radio signal is lost or during equipment malfunction? View the admissibility of location data points and reports from GPS vendors? Rule in privacy rights challenges?  Decide on potential issues of cruel and unusual punishment?”[50]

Courts have also recognized various forms of shaming techniques are considered punishment,[51]  and since many people view ankle bracelets are a visible mark associated with people convicted of sex offenses, the devices themselves constitute a “mark of infamy.” If that is the case, then it should be considered compelled government speech. In  Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705 (1977), SCOTUS held that the State may not constitutionally require an individual to participate in the dissemination of an ideological message by displaying it on his private property in a manner and for the express purpose that it be observed and read by the public.

Eric Dante, writing for the Seton Hall Law Review, argues than an equally important but yet to be fully considered by SCOTUS is the compromise of the registrant’s bodily integrity.

Freedom of bodily Integrity from unreasonable government intrusion: Dante argues that Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966) and United States v. Polouizzi, 697 F. Supp. 2d 381, 392–93 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) can be invoked for arguing against long-term EM usage due to bodily integrity concerns. “Under the court’s rationale in Polouizzi, a per se application of GPS-tracking requirements without any individualized risk assessment would deny the individual’s liberty without due process.  These are devices that, while not surgically attached to the outside of an offender’s body, must be worn on a person’s body for his entire life to help prevent, or at least provide evidence of, future crimes. Such an “[a]ssessment of the risk of future crime by particular individuals at this state of our knowledge is hazardous and fraught with uncertainty.” In Schmerber, the Court held that because there was probable cause to arrest the drunk driver even without the blood sample, such a minor intrusion into the body to collect evidence that would have disappeared with time was reasonable to protect evidence of a crime. With GPS trackers, however, such intrusion to the exterior of one’s body cannot be justified by probable cause that a crime will be committed prospectively. Given the rationale behind Schmerber and Polouizzi, if a state wants to violate an offender’s bodily rights with a GPS tracking device, such actions should only result from an individualized risk assessment if these statutes are to survive constitutional review.  Currently… the majority of states do not provide for such individualized review.”[52]

Technological Advances in Tracking Technologies: Dante expresses concerns with advancing technological advances, including the seemingly inevitable attempt to insert tracking devices with the human body. “While the Schmerber Court allowed a forced test as a minimal infringement of individual’s bodily rights, the Supreme Court has already denied more intrusive methods of evidence-gathering.  In Winston v. Lee, the Court considered a state’s effort to force a burglar to undergo surgery for the removal of a bullet that would have almost certainly provided evidence of his guilt. The Court held that “[a] compelled surgical intrusion into an individual’s body for evidence . . . implicates expectations of privacy and security of such magnitude that the intrusion may be ‘unreasonable’ even if likely to produce evidence of a crime.” The Court did leave the “reasonableness of surgical intrusions beneath the skin…[to be determined by a] case-by-case approach.’ This indicates that the Court’s determination ultimately comes down to a balancing test based on the individual circumstances of the search. But the fact that Supreme Court opposed the surgical removal of an item that evidenced an already committed crime indicates that the Court would likely be even less sympathetic to allowing the implantation of a sub-dermal GPS device when the device provides evidence for possible future crimes.  Even if the technological market develops internal GPS tracking devices, states should avoid using them for sex-offender tracking in order to stay within the bounds of Supreme Court precedent. In addition, each state’s statute should incorporate an explicit limitation to the use of sub-dermal technology.”[53]

This may seem far-fetched, but in 2009, Washington State attempted to pass a state law forcing registered citizens to be implanted with RFID chips.[54]  

At least some of the legal challenges brought up in the preceding paragraphs have made their way through court since these questions were posed in the report.

Commonwealth v. Cory, 454 Mass. 559 (Mass. 2009)

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that General Laws c. 265, Sec. 47, inserted by St. 2006, c. 308, Sec. 8 (Sec. 47), requires any person who is “placed on probation” after conviction of a designated sex offense to wear a global positioning system (GPS) tracking device for the duration of his or her probation, was punitive and could not be applied retroactively to someone convicted before the law took effect on December 20, 2006.

The Court determined that adding GPS for a probation violation enhanced his existing punishment for the original offense: “The defendant received his most recent probationary sentence — and the GPS monitoring requirement imposed under § 47 as a term of that probation — as a consequence of the violation of his prior probation. Penalties for violation of the terms of supervised release, including the penalty of additional supervised release, are attributed to the original conviction rather than to the violation…because the probationary sentence the defendant received in 2007 relates back to a criminal offense he committed in or before 1997 (when he was originally convicted), § 47 has a retrospective application to him.”

The Court determined the law had a punitive intent because “it is imposed only in the criminal context, when an offender is sentenced to probation; and it is placed in a criminal code (G. L. c. 265, ‘Crimes Against the Person’). Moreover, the structure of the statute suggests a penal or punitive intent: the GPS requirement must be uniformly imposed on every defendant sentenced to probation for certain sex offenses, and for precisely the period of his or her probationary sentence, without regard to present dangerousness, and even if there are no exclusion zones that can reasonably be applied to the defendant.,  It bears emphasis as well that probation itself serves as a disposition of and punishment for a crime; it is not a civil program or sanction.” It found the law fulfilled the seven punitive factors as described in Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 US 144.

The Court found GPS monitoring to be overly intrusive: “While GPS monitoring does not rise to the same level of intrusive regulation that having a personal guard constantly and physically present would impose, it is certainly far greater than that associated with traditional monitoring. And the impact of such intrusion is of course heightened by the physical attachment of the GPS bracelet, which serves as a continual reminder of the State’s oversight…The GPS requirement thus places significant restraints on offenders.”

People v. Cole, 817 N.W.2d 497 (Mich. 2012)

In this case, the Michigan Supreme Court established lifetime monitoring under MCL 750.520b(2)(d) or MCL 750.520c(2)(b) was part of the court-mandated sentence (i.e., it is punitive). “Therefore, at the time a defendant enters a guilty or no-contest plea, the trial court must inform the defendant if he or she will be subject to mandatory lifetime electronic monitoring. In the absence of this information about a direct and automatic consequence of a defendant’s decision to enter a plea and forgo his or her right to a trial, no defendant could be said to have entered an understanding and voluntary plea.” In other words, courts must notify defendants of their obligations of lifetime electronic monitoring before accepting a guilty plea.

United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012)

This SCOTUS case involved drug trafficking rather than sex crimes, but this case has been cited in numerous subsequent cases regarding GPS that it is worthy of review. The High Court ruled 9-0 that attaching a GPS device to a vehicle and then using the device to monitor the vehicle’s movements constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment, though it did not decide whether the search was necessarily unreasonable.

“It is important to be clear about what occurred in this case: The Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information. We have no doubt that such a physical intrusion would have been considered a ‘search’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when it was adopted… At bottom, we must ‘assur[e] preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted.’ Kyllo, supra, at 34, 121 S.Ct. 2038. As explained, for most of our history the Fourth Amendment was understood to embody a particular concern for government trespass upon the areas (“persons, houses, papers, and effects”) it enumerates.”

Riley v. New Jersey State Parole Board, 219 N.J. 270 (2014)

In 1986, George Riley was convicted of sex offenses against a child and sentenced to 20 years in prison. New Jersey law did not require lifetime parole supervision for sex offenders and Riley was released in February 2009, without any form of parole supervision. In August 2009, however, the New Jersey State Parole Board ordered Riley to submit to GPS monitoring under SOMA. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that the “retroactive application of the 2007 Sex Offender Monitoring Act to George Riley twenty-three years after he committed the sexual offense at issue and after he fully completed his criminal sentence violates the Ex Post Facto Clauses of the United States and New Jersey Constitutions.”

Utilizing the Kennedy-Mendoza Factors to determine punitive nature of a law declared civil by the government, the NJ Supreme Court determined that the state’s electronic monitoring program met these requirements for being punitive.

“In applying the five Mendoza-Martinez factors considered most relevant in Smith, the Court notes that there are no direct historical analogues to a twenty-four-hour-a-day electronic surveillance that can track an individual s every movement. Parole, more particularly parole supervision for life, is the closest analogue to SOMA. SOMA looks like parole, monitors like parole, restricts like parole, serves the general purpose of parole, and is run by the Parole Board. Calling this scheme by another name does not alter its essential nature. SOMA imposes an affirmative disability or restraint… and clearly impinges on Riley s freedom to travel, which has long been recognized as a basic right under the Constitution…SOMA s grant of authority to parole officers to gain access to Riley’s home is also an incursion into Riley s Fourth Amendment privacy rights. SOMA s twenty-four-hour surveillance of Riley and onerous restrictions deprive him of freedom of movement and the ability to live and work as other citizens, with no supervision.”

Grady v. North Carolina, 135 S. Ct. 1368 (2015)

Citing precedent, the US Supreme Court rejected the State’s argument that satellite-based monitoring (SBM) under N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. Subsection 14–208.40(a)(1), 14–208.40B (2013) was not search for 4th Amendment purposes. The Court stated, “The State’s program is plainly designed to obtain information. And since it does so by physically intruding on a subject’s body, it effects a Fourth Amendment search. That conclusion, however, does not decide the ultimate question of the program’s constitutionality. The Fourth Amendment prohibits only unreasonable searches. The reasonableness of a search depends on the totality of the circumstances, including the nature and purpose of the search and the extent to which the search intrudes upon reasonable privacy expectations.”

SCOTUS had left the door open for state arguments that programs could be considered reasonable under specific circumstances, though this ruling did not establish any guidelines in this matter. The case was remanded back to the lower courts.

People v. Hallak, 873 N.W.2d 811 (Mich. Ct. App. 2015)

This Court rejected the defendant’s arguments that the evidence was insufficient to support his CSC–II conviction, that his sentence to lifetime electronic monitoring violates his state and federal constitutional rights against cruel and/or unusual punishment, unreasonable searches, and double jeopardy, and that the trial court erred in utilizing facts not found by the jury in scoring the sentencing guidelines.

The Court found that the language of MCL 750.520b(2)(d) and MCL 750.520c(2)(b) is intended to be punishment (as it is part of the court-sanctioned sentence) but relied on the “proportionality question” (whether the punishment is so excessive that it is completely unsuitable to the crime) in rejecting the argument against cruel and unusual punishment. This court cited the myth of “frightening and high recidivism” as justification, and looked at harsh penalties against registered citizens in other states to deny that lifetime monitoring was disproportionate punishment.  

In rejecting the 4th Amendment challenge, the Court decided to fly their decision through the window left open by SCOTUS decision in Grady. Because SCOTUS believed a “reasonable” monitoring law could pass constitutional muster, this Court found a way to justify bypassing safeguards against privacy intrusions: “The applicable test in determining the reasonableness of an intrusion is to balance the need to search, in the public interest, for evidence of criminal activity against invasion of the individual’s privacy.” This court used the argument that those on probation/ parole have lower expectations of privacy, the monitors don’t inhibit travel, and even cited the claims of lifetime trauma for victims to justify diminishing the registrant’s privacy rights.

In rejecting Double Jeopardy arguments, the Court stated, “Because the Legislature intended that both defendant’s prison sentence and the requirement of lifetime monitoring be sanctions for the crime, there was no double jeopardy violation.” The monitoring order was given at the time of sentencing.

Belleau v. Wall, 811 F.3d 929 (7th Cir. 2016)

This case is one of the worst examples of biased and faulty court reasoning. In rejecting a challenge to GPS monitoring based on expectation of privacy, the Seventh Circuit relied upon biases and myths against those convicted of sex crimes (such as the underreporting myth and claims of high re-offense rates) while minimizing the impact of GPS monitoring on the human body.  

The Court wrote: “Having to wear a GPS anklet monitor is less restrictive, and less invasive of privacy, than being in jail or prison, or for that matter civilly committed, which realistically is a form of imprisonment. The plaintiff argues that because he is not on bail, parole, probation, or supervised release, and so is free of the usual restrictions on the freedom of a person accused or convicted of a crime, there is no lawful basis for requiring him to wear the anklet monitor. But this misses two points. The first is the nature of the crimes he committed—sexual molestation of prepubescent children. In other words the plaintiff is a pedophile…If only 20 percent of child molestations result in an arrest, the 3 percent recidivism figure implies that as many as 15 percent of child molesters released from prison molest again.” It is shameful such faulty logic was allowed to be published at such a high level court.

Rejecting the argument that the physical presence of the ankle bracelet leads to diminished privacy under the 4th Amendment because people see the monitor and assume the Plaintiff is a criminal, the Court stated, “So the plaintiff’s privacy has already been severely curtailed as a result of his criminal activities, and he makes no challenge to that loss of privacy. The additional loss from the fact that occasionally his trouser leg hitches up and reveals an anklet monitor that may cause someone who spots it to guess that this is a person who has committed a sex crime must be slight. For it’s not as if the Department of Corrections were following the plaintiff around, peeking through his bedroom window, trailing him as he walks to the drug store or the local Starbucks, videotaping his every move, and through such snooping learning (as the amicus curiae brief of the Electronic Frontier Foundation would have it) ‘whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband,’ etc.”

This court also concluded that because SCOTUS found sex offender civil commitment was not punishment, the “lesser” intrusions of lifetime GPS monitoring must not be punishment. “Having to wear the monitor is a bother, an inconvenience, an annoyance, but no more is punishment than being stopped by a police officer on the highway and asked to show your driver’s license is punishment, or being placed on a sex offender registry, held by the Supreme Court in Smith v. Doe, and by our court in Mueller v. Raemisch, 740 F.3d at 1133, not to be punishment.”

The type of anklet worn by the plaintiff is waterproof to a depth of fifteen feet, so one can bathe or shower while wearing it. It must however be plugged into a wall outlet for an hour each day (while being worn) in order to recharge it. It was touted as being accurate to within 30 feet.

Doe No. 1 v. Coupe, 143 A.3d 1266, 1274-1279 (Del. Ch. 2016), aff’d, 158 A.3d 449 (Del. 2017)

Court ruling applying three-part “special needs” framework determined that mandatory GPS monitoring of “Tier III,” “highest risk” Registrants was reasonable. Delaware is an Adam Walsh Act compliant state, meaning registrants are classified by offense type rather than risk, so virtually all registrants with convictions involving anyone under age 18 is automatically classified into the higher tiers.

“n this action, three convicted sex offenders challenge the constitutionality of a Delaware statute that requires them to wear GPS monitors on their ankles at all times as a condition of their parole or probation. The plaintiffs are Tier III sex offenders, which means they were convicted of the sex crimes that the Delaware General Assembly has deemed among the most serious. The challenged statute—11 Del. C. § 4121(u) (“Section 4121(u) ”)—mandates GPS monitoring of all Tier III sex offenders granted parole or probation without reference to their individual risks of recidivism. The plaintiffs claim that Section 4121(u) violates the Fourth Amendment to and the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution, as well as Article I, § 6 of the Delaware Constitution…

“John Doe No. 1 described the embarrassment that the GPS monitor causes him and the lengths to which he goes to avoid having to talk with other people about it. He “wear[s] clothes that will cover the monitor as best [he] can whenever [he is] outside [his] home in order to reduce the frequency with which people see the GPS monitor and question why [he is] wearing it.” The GPS monitor also “caused [his] leg to become infected because it was too tightly affixed.” Although the infection went away after P & P loosened the GPS monitor, P & P still had to move the monitor to John Doe No.1’s other leg “because it was injuring the first leg.” Because John Doe No. 1 has to pay “$4.65 per day for the GPS monitor,” he now has *1271 “an outstanding bill in excess of $11,000.”

John Doe No. 2 also “incurred a debt of more than $11,000 for the monitor.” Further, John Doe No. 2 “was employed by a temporary employment company performing cleaning services inside a power plant.” John Doe No. 2 “was frequently instructed by [his] probation officer … to step outside the plant so that the GPS satellite could pick up the signal from the monitor.” Because of the disruption that his frequent trips outside of the power plant caused, John Doe No. 2 “lost that work, and became unemployed.”

Finally, Mary Doe complained that the GPS monitor on her ankle “rubbed [her] skin to the point of soreness” and “caused [her] ankle to bruise.” Mary Doe “wore slacks all of the time to work, church and whenever else [she] was out in public” because she “did not want to deal with the public questioning that results from having the monitor visible on [her] ankle.” The GPS monitor also negatively impacted Mary Doe’s time with her family. Because Mary Doe was too embarrassed to wear bathing suits, she was “prevented … from swimming with [her family] on family vacations.” In addition to the physical pain and embarrassment that the GPS monitor caused Mary Doe, she also “had to carry the charger for the GPS monitor wherever [she] went in order to keep it charged…

Although Coupe quibbles with certain of Plaintiffs’ statistics regarding sex offender recidivism rates, I need not resolve the parties’ dispute as to that issue. The facts that sex offenders may recidivate at a lower rate than other criminals and that P & P would reduce overall recidivism more effectively by focusing on higher risk individuals are not dispositive as to whether Section 4121(u)’s GPS monitoring requirement is reasonable. Here, the record indicates that Section 4121(u)’s GPS monitoring requirement has at least some benefits in terms of reducing the rate of or mitigating the harm from recidivism by Tier III sex offenders. Even if sex offenders do recidivate at a lower rate than other criminals, the Delaware General Assembly reasonably may view sex crimes as more detrimental to public safety than other crimes and “could also have concluded that any sex offender recidivism is more egregious than recidivism of other crimes.”

State v Grady, No. COA17-12 (NC App Ct, 15 May 2018) (AKA Grady II)

After SCOTUS ruled GPS monitoring as a search, SCOTUS remanded the case for North Carolina courts to “examine whether the State’s monitoring program is reasonable—when properly viewed as a search.” This time, the Appeal Court sided with Grady, determining lifetime satellite-based monitoring (SBM) constituted an unreasonable search. “The reasonableness of a search depends on the totality of the circumstances, including the nature and purpose of the search and the extent to which the search intrudes upon reasonable privacy expectations… In the absence of a warrant, a search is reasonable only if it falls within a specific exception to the warrant requirement.”

“Grady directs us to consider two approaches for our analysis of the warrantless search in this case: (1) a ‘general Fourth Amendment approach’ based on diminished expectations of privacy, and (2) ‘special needs’ searches.”

“However, because the special needs doctrine is typically used to uphold sweeping programmatic searches, it is a “closely guarded” exception to the warrant requirement, which only applies to a limited ‘class of permissible suspicionless searches.’ (Cit. omitted) In order for the exception to apply, the ‘special need’ advanced to justify dispensing with a warrant or individualized suspicion must be ‘divorced from the State’s general interest in law enforcement.’… The State had ample opportunity to argue the special needs doctrine—both at the hearing and in its subsequent brief to the trial court—but nevertheless failed to do so.”

On diminished expectations of privacy, “Defendant is an unsupervised offender.  He is not on probation or supervised release, but rather was enrolled in lifetime SBM more than three years after “all rights of citizenship which were forfeited on conviction including the right to vote, [we]re by law automatically restored” to him.  Solely by virtue of his legal status, then, it would seem that defendant has a greater expectation of privacy than a supervised offender. Yet, as a recidivist sex offender, defendant must maintain lifetime registration on DPS’s statewide sex offender registry… Defendant’s expectation of privacy is therefore appreciably diminished as compared to law-abiding citizens… Viewed in context, SBM intrudes to varying degrees upon defendant’s privacy through (1) the compelled attachment of the ankle monitor, and (2) the continuous GPS tracking it effects. We consider each in turn.”

This court ruled that the audible GPS signals it sometimes emits and the need to be charged for 2 hours per day were mere “inconveniences” rather than “intrusions.” But, turning to the idea of continuous monitoring, the Court found, “Notwithstanding defendant’s diminished expectation of privacy, this aspect of SBM is “uniquely intrusive” as compared to other searches upheld by the United States Supreme Court… this type of static information (i.e., the info required to turn in during the act of registration) is materially different from the continuous, dynamic location data SBM yields… Here, it is significant that law enforcement is not required to obtain a warrant in order to access defendant’s SBM location data… the State presented no evidence of defendant’s current threat of reoffending, and the record evidence regarding the circumstances of his convictions does not support the
conclusion that lifetime SBM is objectively reasonable.”

The State used the Belleau v. Wall 2016 decision to justify lifetime monitoring, but this Court rejected that argument because in Belleau, the registrant was a “sexually violent predator” who was formerly civilly committed. In this case, the State failed to make a compelling case that Grady posed a particularly unique threat to the public other than registration status. In addition, the Court also determined that the State failed to provide evidence of the efficacy of the SBM program.

The state held that, “We reiterate the continued need for individualized determinations of reasonableness at Grady hearings.”

State of Wisconsin v Muldrow, 2018 WI 52 (WI Sup Ct, 5/18/18)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied a challenge to lifetime GPS on the grounds it is a punishment and that the consequences of a guilty plea should have included a warning that lifetime GPS would be a part of the sentencing. The state upheld lower court rulings, adding, “The Applying the intent-effects test (i.e., the Martinez-Mendoza factors), we hold that neither the intent nor effect of lifetime GPS tracking is punitive. Consequently, Muldrow is not entitled to withdraw his plea because the circuit court was not required to inform him that his guilty plea would subject him to lifetime GPS tracking…

The GPS tracker is attached to the offender’s ankle by a black neoprene rubber strap. The offender is prohibited from ever removing it. Id. To that end, the tracker is waterproof up to 15 feet to allow for bathing and swimming. The tracker can, however, cause blistering, especially when wet. The tracker is approximately 2.5 x 3.5 x 1.5 inches. Though small, the tracker is noticeable; its position at the bottom of the offender’s ankle means that it is always visible if the offender wears shorts or sits down while wearing pants. Even if the tracker is totally covered by the offender’s pants, it nonetheless creates a noticeable bulge on the offender’s pant leg. The tracker must be charged for one hour once per day, which requires the offender to stay close enough to an electrical outlet for the cord to reach. Id. at 1090. The tracker has a speaker that can play messages sent from DOC personnel, such as orders to call the DOC, orders to report to the DOC, reminders of upcoming appointments with DOC personnel, and warnings for low batteries. These messages can be heard by anyone within earshot of the offender…

Courts have, in analogous contexts, deemed protection of the public from future sex offenses a non-punitive purpose: sex offender registration, Smith, 538 U.S. at 103; State v. Smith, 2010 WI 16, ¶26, 323 Wis. 2d 377, 780 N.W.2d 90; civil commitment of sex offenders, Hendricks, 521 U.S. at 363; and municipal ordinances restricting sex offender residency, City of S. Milwaukee v. Kester, 2013 WI App 50, ¶30, 347 Wis. 2d 334, 830 N.W.2d 710. Lifetime GPS tracking has a rational relationship to this non-punitive purpose because it ensures law enforcement will have ready access to evidence of an offender’s whereabouts…

Lifetime GPS tracking is commensurate with the goal of protecting the public. It provides a middle ground between releasing dangerous sex offenders into the public wholly unsupervised and civil commitment pursuant to chapter 980. In light of the “frightening and high” rate of recidivism for sex offenders, the relatively minimal intrusion of lifetime GPS tracking (especially when compared to chapter 980 commitment) is not excessive in relation to protecting the public.”

Park v. State, S18A1211 (Ga. Mar. 4, 2019)

Joseph Park filed facial challenge to the constitutionality of OCGA § 42-1-14, which requires, among other things, that a person who is classified as a sexually dangerous predator – but who is no longer in State custody or on probation or parole – wear and pay for an electronic monitoring device linked to a global positioning satellite system (“GPS monitoring device”) that allows the State to monitor that individual’s location “for the remainder of his or her natural life”.

The device had to be charged twice a day for 30 minutes each time it was to be charged; Park could shower, but now swim with the device since it was not fully waterproof; An alert was sent if the device detected any activity it determined to be attempted tampering.

Park’s claims “included assertions that the classification procedure under OCGA § 42-1-14 deprived him of due process, the statute deprived him of equal protection by treating him differently from other convicted criminals, the statute was unconstitutionally vague with respect to the standard for designating an individual as a sexually dangerous predator, the classification constituted ex post facto punishment, and the statute violated double jeopardy principles by subjecting Park to additional punishment that had not been imposed in his original sentence. Specifically, Park claimed that OCGA § 42-1-14 (e) violated his right against unlawful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and under the Georgia Constitution, violated his right to privacy under the Georgia Constitution, violated his right against self-incrimination by forcing him to disclose his location to law enforcement, violated his right against cruel and unusual punishment, was an ex post facto law, and created an unlawful taking by requiring him to pay for the electronic monitoring.”

The Georgia Supreme Court declared the GA statute a violation of the 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, so the Court rejected discussions on the other issues. The Court rejected the State’s argument that people classified as Sexually Dangerous Predators had a “diminished expectation of privacy” as those not on probation/ parole have completed their state- sanctioned sentences. (Remember, the act of registration is not considered “punishment”.)  The Court also found the law failed to pass a “Special Needs” exception to the law (an exclusion allowing suspicionless searches “when special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement, make the warrant and probable-cause requirement impracticable”); “[E]ven if the primary purpose of the statute is to prevent specific types of recidivism, because, under OCGA § 42-1-14’s design, that purpose is not ‘divorced from the State’s general interest in law enforcement’ (Ferguson, supra, 532 U.S. at 79 (III)) the statute does not authorize a permissible “special needs” search.”

The Court determined that “OCGA § 42-1-14 (e), on its face, simply allows for warrantless searches of  individuals – that these individuals must pay for – to find evidence of possible criminality for the rest of their lives, despite the fact that they have completed serving their entire sentences and have had their privacy rights restored…Once an individual’s classification as a sexually dangerous predator has become final, OCGA § 42-1-14 does not, on its face, provide any method for that individual to be removed from that category of offenders and reclassified in a way that would relieve that person of wearing a GPS monitoring device “for the remainder of his or her natural life.”

*Note: In response to this ruling, the Georgia legislature introduced HB 720 to attempt to reinstate the lifetime GPS program, but it stalled without passage, and it appears no further action has been taken as of May 2023. 

Commonwealth v. Feliz, 451 Mass. 689 (Mass. 2019)

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that the statute was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment in Appellant’s case. (The registrant was convicted of two counts of CP possession.)  GPS monitoring is a search that implicates the Fourth Amendment, and there was no evidence adduced that would indicate that the search would be a reasonable one in Appellant’s case so as to satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.

We consider this argument in light of the United States Supreme Court’s holding that GPS monitoring is a search. See Grady v. North Carolina, 135 S. Ct. 1368, 1370 (2015). We conclude that G. L. c. 256, § 47, is overinclusive in that GPS monitoring will not necessarily constitute a reasonable search for all individuals convicted of a qualifying sex offense. Article 14 requires an individualized determination of reasonableness in order to conduct more than minimally invasive searches, and GPS monitoring is not a minimally invasive search. To comport with art. 14, prior to imposing GPS monitoring on a given defendant, a judge is required to conduct a balancing test that weighs the Commonwealth’s need to impose GPS monitoring against the privacy invasion occasioned by such monitoring. We conclude that, in the circumstances of this case, the Commonwealth’s particularized reasons for imposing GPS monitoring on this defendant do not outweigh the privacy invasion that GPS monitoring entails. Accordingly, as applied to this defendant, GPS monitoring is an unconstitutional search under art. 14.”

State v. Grady, 831 S.E.2d 542 (N.C. 2019) (aka “Grady III)

A continuation of the SCOTUS 2015 Grady ruling (called “Grady I” in the NC courts), the NC Supreme Court determined:

“In North Carolina, “SBM’s enrollment population consists of (1) offenders on parole or probation who are subject to State supervision, (2) unsupervised offenders who remain under SBM by court order for a designated number of months or years, and (3) unsupervised offenders subject to SBM for life, who are also known as ‘lifetime trackers.’ ” State v. Bowditch , 364 N.C. 335, 338, 700 S.E.2d 1, 3 (2010). Mr. Grady is in the third of these categories in that he is subject to SBM for life and is unsupervised by the State through probation, parole, or post-release supervision. Additionally, Mr. Grady is a “recidivist,” which makes lifetime SBM mandatory as to him without any individualized determination of the reasonableness of this search. Because we conclude that the relevant portions of *547 N.C.G.S. §§ 14-208.40A(c) and 14-208.40B(c) are unconstitutional as applied to all individuals who, like Mr. Grady, are in the third Bowditch category and who are subject to mandatory lifetime SBM based solely on their status as a “recidivist,” we modify and affirm the opinion of the Court of Appeals…

“Defendant argues that North Carolina’s SBM program effects an unreasonable search and is unconstitutional both on its face and as applied to him under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In light of our analysis of the program and the applicable law, we conclude that the State’s SBM program is unconstitutional in its application to all individuals in the same category as defendant—specifically, individuals who are subject to mandatory lifetime SBM based solely on their status as a statutorily defined “recidivist” who have completed their prison sentences and are no longer supervised by the State through probation, parole, or post-release supervision. We decline to address the application of SBM beyond this class of individuals…

Because defendant is not on probation or supervised release, but rather is unsupervised, this is not a situation, as in Grif in , in which there is any “ongoing supervisory relationship” between defendant and the State. Id. at 879, 107 S.Ct. 3164 ; see also id. at 875, 107 S.Ct. 3164 (stating that ” [probation] restrictions are meant to assure that the probation serves as a period of genuine rehabilitation”). Nor is there any indication in the record that the “primary purpose” of SBM is anything other than to “advance the general interest in crime control”…

“Contrary to the State’s argument, there is no precedent for the proposition that persons such as defendant, who have served their sentences and whose legal rights have been restored to them (with the exception of the right to possess firearms, see N.C.G.S. § 13-1 (2017) ), nevertheless have a diminished expectation of privacy in their persons and in their physical locations at any and all times of the day or night for the rest of their lives. Indeed, courts that have examined this question in the Fourth Amendment context have reached a contrary conclusion.”

“While a person’s status as a convicted sex offender may affect the extent to which the State can infringe upon fundamental rights, “the fact of ‘diminished privacy interests does not mean that the Fourth Amendment falls out of the picture entirely.’ ” Carpenter, 138 S. Ct. at 2219 (quoting Riley, 134 S. Ct. at 2488 ). A person may have a lessened interest in the privacy of his address because he has already made that information public, or a lessened interest in the privacy of matters material to his voluntary participation in a certain activity, e.g. , Vernonia, 515 U.S. at 657, 115 S.Ct. 2386 (discussing voluntary participation in school athletics), but having served his sentence, paid his debt to society, and had his rights restored, his expectation of privacy is not automatically and forever “significantly diminished” under the Fourth Amendment for all purposes. Instead, except as reduced for possessing firearms and by providing certain specific information and materials to the sex offender registry, defendant’s constitutional privacy rights, including his Fourth Amendment expectations of privacy, have been restored.”

H.R. v. New Jersey State Parole Board, No. 082373 (N.J. 2020)

New Jersey Supreme Court held that while the GPS monitoring was a search and thus implicated the 4th Amendment, it was justified in the particular instance of a Tier III offender on parole supervision for life on the grounds of the special needs exception to the warrant requirement. Thus, the Court affirmed the decision of the lower court.

“SOMA’s legislatively enumerated purposes demonstrate that a special need — not an immediate need to gather evidence to pursue criminal charges — motivates the GPS monitoring prescribed by the Legislature. That satisfies the first step in a special needs analysis and allows the determination that this search may be constitutional. The Court therefore balances the interests of the parties and concludes that, although GPS monitoring is a significantly invasive search, it is outweighed by the compelling government interest advanced by the search and H.R.’s severely diminished expectation of privacy. The Court notes that H.R.’s PSL status is critical to that conclusion…

SOMA was enacted in 2007 after the Legislature found enhanced monitoring to be efficacious following a two-year pilot program. In the Act, the Legislature expresses concern about the high recidivism rates of sex offenders and the “unacceptable level of risk” such offenders pose to the community. See N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.90(a). SOMA declares that “[i]ntensive supervision” of such “offenders is a crucial element in both the rehabilitation of the released inmate and the safety of the surrounding community.” Id. at (b). The Legislature called the GPS program “a valuable and reasonable requirement for those offenders who are determined to be a high risk to reoffend.” Id. at (e). The Act provides that those whose “risk of reoffense has been determined to be high” — defined as any person designated as a Tier III offender under Megan’s Law — are automatically subject to SOMA. N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.91(a)(1). And a person also sentenced to PSL must comply with both PSL and SOMA requirements. N.J.A.C. 10A:72-11.5(b). (pp. 12-16)…

In New Jersey, a warrant exception exists when “special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement, make the warrant and probable-cause requirement impracticable.” State v. O’Hagen, 189 N.J. 140, 150 (2007). Under a special needs analysis, the first consideration is “whether there is a special governmental need beyond the normal need for law enforcement that justifies [the search] without individualized suspicion.” Id. at 158. In that examination, courts look to the explanation for the search’s purpose, ibid., and “if the core objective of the police conduct serves a special need other than immediate crime detection, the search may be constitutional,” id. at 160. Once the purpose of the search is determined to serve a special need, then a court weighs the search’s encroachment on an individual’s privacy interests against the advancement of legitimate state goals to determine whether, on balance, the search is reasonable. See id. at 158. The Court notes that the nature or degree of intrusiveness of the search is a  factor in the balancing performed in the second part of the analysis. Contrary to arguments advanced by H.R. and the ACLU, the first part of the test does not require a determination that the search is only minimally intrusive. (pp. 17-19)…

The Court holds that the legislatively enumerated purposes — enhanced supervision, community protection, deterrence, and rehabilitation — demonstrate that a special need — not an immediate need to gather evidence to pursue criminal charges — motivates the GPS monitoring prescribed by the Legislature. That satisfies the first step in a special needs analysis and allows the determination that this search may be constitutional. Id. at 160. (pp. 20-22)

Turning to the second part of the special needs test, the Court stresses that continuous GPS monitoring is more invasive than any special needs search allowed in the past, making the inquiry into the privacy interest affected a very important consideration. Here, H. R.’s status as a Tier III sex offender and a PSL parolee places him in the position of having a severely diminished expectation of privacy… As to the governmental interest, the Court notes that the State’s interest in deterring and preventing sexual offenses is compelling and well recognized but stresses that the strength of that interest still must be evaluated in context. (pp. 23-28) On balance, H.R.’s diminished privacy interests as a Tier III Megan’s Law sex offender on PSL are outweighed by the State’s interest in deterring and rehabilitating him as a highrisk sex offender.”

State v. Griffin, 818 S.E.2d 336 (N.C. Ct. App. 2020)

Subsequent to release from prison for a sex offense, the state of North Carolina sought to impose on Griffin 30 years of satellite- based monitoring (SBM). A hearing was held where the facts of his case were adduced, including that he failed to complete treatment in prison, that he was in a position of trust over his victim, that his victim was significantly younger than him, and that the offenses took place over a three year period. Trial court entered an order enrolling Griffin in a SBM program, and Griffin appealed. North Carolina Court of Appeals held, in light of Grady I, II, and III, where the state presents no evidence as to the efficacy of SBM in prevention of sex offenses, its application is an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

“Defendant’s circumstances place him outside of the facial aspect of Grady III’s holding; he is not an unsupervised recidivist subject to mandatory lifetime SBM, but is instead a felon on post-release supervision who was convicted of an offense involving the physical, mental, or sexual abuse of a minor. Defendant, then, is subject to SBM under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-208.40(a)(2), not subsection (a)(1) as in the Grady cases, and he therefore received the benefit of a risk assessment and judicial determination of whether and for how long he would be subject to the SBM search…

Defendant has not contested the imposition of SBM as a condition of postrelease supervision but has instead appealed an entirely different search lasting six times the length of his supervisory relationship with the State. In light of the fact that the State’s special need to monitor Defendant through SBM can already be met as a term of his release—and given that Defendant has not contested the imposition of SBM in connection with his post-release supervision—we analyze the separate, thirty-year SBM search imposed independent of his supervised release under a diminished expectation of privacy exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement rather than as a special needs search. Because the State has not proffered any concerns other than crime detection, the special needs doctrine is not applicable here.”

“Defendant, as a registered sex-offender subject to post-release supervision, does have a diminished expectation of privacy in some respects. His appearance on the sex offender registry does not mean, however, that his rights to privacy in his person, his home, and his movements are forever forfeit. Id. at 534, 831 S.E.2d at 561. And while those rights may be appreciably diminished during his five-year term of post-release supervision, that is not true for the remaining 25 years of SBM imposed here. Treating this search on its own terms, Defendant’s “constitutional privacy rights, including his Fourth Amendment expectations of privacy, [will] have been restored” one-sixth of the way into the warrantless search at issue. Id. Defendant, then, will enjoy appreciable, recognizable privacy interests that weigh against the imposition of SBM for the remainder of the thirty-year term…

“The thirty-year term of SBM imposed here, though less than a lifelong term, nonetheless constitutes a significantly lengthy and burdensome warrantless search. Although Defendant did have the benefit of judicial review in determining whether SBM should be imposed, persons subject to SBM for a term of years do not have the opportunity to later petition the Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission for relief.

Commonwealth v. Roderick, No. SJC-13212 (Mass. 2022)

As a condition of post-release supervision, the judge ordered the defendant to submit to GPS monitoring and imposed a one-half mile exclusion zone around the victim’s residence and place of employment.

the Massachusetts Supreme Court concluded that the imposition of global positioning system (GPS) monitoring as a condition of the defendant’s probation following a conviction of rape constituted an unreasonable search in violation of Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, where, although the defendant, as a probationer, had a significantly diminished expectation of privacy, the Commonwealth’s demonstrated interests in GPS monitoring as an aid in deterrence and in investigating possible future criminal activity by the defendant did not justify the significant intrusion into his expectation of privacy occasioned by GPS monitoring, given that the Commonwealth did not establish at the hearing on the defendant’s motion to remove GPS monitoring as a condition of his probation that the Commonwealth would or could configure in the defendant’s GPS monitoring device an effective exclusion zone around the victim’s residence.

In Commonwealth v. Feliz, 481 Mass. 689, 690-691 (2019), S.C., 486 Mass. 510 (2020) (Feliz I), we held that global positioning system (GPS) monitoring as a condition of probation constitutes a search under art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as recognized by the United States Supreme Court in Grady v. North Carolina, 575 U.S. 306, 309 (2015). Consequently, in order for such a condition of probation to be constitutional, the government must establish that its interest in imposing GPS monitoring outweighs the privacy intrusion occasioned by the monitoring…

This case requires us to determine whether GPS monitoring as a condition of probation is constitutional as applied to the defendant, a first-time offender convicted of rape. The Commonwealth asserts that GPS monitoring will further its interests in enforcing the court-ordered exclusion zone surrounding the victim’s home, deterring the defendant from engaging in criminal activity, and assisting authorities in investigating any future criminal activity by the defendant.

We conclude that the Commonwealth has not established how the imposition of GPS monitoring in this case would further its interest in enforcing the exclusion zone. Although the Commonwealth has demonstrated that GPS monitoring might aid in deterring and investigating possible future criminal activity by the defendant, in the circumstances here, those interests alone do not justify the depth of the intrusion into the defendant’s privacy that GPS monitoring entails.”

Braam v. Carr, No. 20-1059 (7th Cir. 2022)

The Seventh Circuit ruled that although Wisconsin’s lifetime GPS monitoring is considered a search under Grady v. North Carolina, 575 U.S. 306 (2015), under the totality of the circumstances, balancing balancing the individual privacy interests and legitimate state interests, lifetime GPS monitoring is not an unreasonable search.

“We have addressed section 301.48 once before. In Belleau v. Wall, 811 F.3d 929 (7th Cir. 2016), we upheld a subsection of the statute that imposes lifetime monitoring on sex offenders who have been released from post-prison civil commitment. § 301.48(2)(b)(2) (incorporating by reference section 980.09(4)). Applying the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness standard, we held that the government’s interest in deterring recidivism by these dangerous offenders
outweighs the offenders’ diminished expectation of privacy. Belleau, 811 F.3d at 935–36.

Relying on Belleau, the district judge denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, concluding that their claim was unlikely to succeed on the merits. That ruling was sound. Any differences between the plaintiffs here and the plaintiff in Belleau are too immaterial to make our holding there inapplicable. The judge properly declined to issue a preliminary injunction.”


To summarize the legal decisions on electronic monitoring up to the 2019 Park v State decision, most courts have agreed that subjecting registered persons to lengthy registration periods is punitive in nature and overly intrusive, and because it is punitive in nature, it should be declared as a sanction before imposed by a court. As part of a state-sanctioned GPS program, people not on supervision could argue that GPS monitoring acts like parole.

In Grady v North Carolina, the US Supreme Court declared that GPS tracking is indeed a “search” but did not definitively draw a line in the stand as to when that search is unreasonable. However, other courts have interpreted Grady as creating a two-part test to determine what constitutes a reasonable search; a search is considered reasonable if the subject of the search has a “diminished expectation of privacy” and if the state can declare “special needs” beyond the normal need for law enforcement which make the warrant and probable-cause requirement impracticable.

So far, courts have split on whether the status of forced placement of the public sex offense registry satisfies diminished expectation of privacy and special needs. The terrible decisions of the courts in Hallack and Belleau relied upon the typical myths of high recidivism and unique threats posed by registrants as well as invoking victim trauma as justification for diminishing the privacy rights of registered citizens. However, Grady IIGrady III and Park v State of GA decisions rejected the justifications upheld by the Hallack and Belleau decisions for those not on probation/ parole, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court rejected lifetime GPS for first-time and low-level offenses. it appears that challenges to lifetime GPS requirements would be more successful if those subject to GPS monitoring are found to be low-risk.

However, the Courts have yet to fully consider the level of intrusiveness posed by the physical restraints created by ankle bracelets. The 2018 Grady case declared the noise of the devices and the need to charge the devices for 2 hours a day were merely “inconveniences” rather than intrusive. Perhaps this could be remedied by presenting the myriad of health issues presented in this report.

It is very important for future attorneys to recognize that those fighting in favor of electronic monitoring will argue that people convicted by sex crimes have a “diminished expectation of privacy” and pose a unique threat to society even when not on supervision.


Electronic monitoring has been heralded as an inexpensive alternative to prison and a deterrent for future crimes, but the scant research on this subject is showing that such claims are exaggerated. The founders of electronic monitoring never intended for electronic monitoring to be used in the matter of use it is seeing today and believes the programs should be altered to a more positive approach.

While electronic monitoring has improved dramatically in terms of size and accuracy, it is not without common problems such as weather/ environmental factors, false alarms, and human errors. The irony is the low price of the devices themselves has actually increased costs of EM programs; judges and officers are apt to turn to the devices as cheap alternatives to human monitoring, but in turn, increase the workloads of those tasked with checking the alarms in terms of having to watch more subjects and answering alarms (many of which turn out to be false alarms).

There are a variety of health concerns, both physically and psychologically, concerning the long-term usage of EM ankle monitors. While the link between EM radiation and cancers is still being debated, it has not been ruled out as a possibility given the experiments subjecting rats to 24/7 exposure to waves caused an increase of tumors in rats. EM waves may also impact glucose levels. The psychological issues are easier to prove as the stigma of associating the devices with “sex offenders” have been shown to negatively impact parolees not convicted of sex crimes and even college students made to wear the devices as part of their class assignments. In addition, the devices impact the lives of those being monitored, and their loved ones, in ways unconsidered thus far by the courts. Entire lives revolve around EM recharging schedules, causing job loss and having to miss out on family functions.

The view of GPS as being cost effective does not take into account indirect factors like increased manpower and the impact of false alarms from imperfect devices, nor does the negative financial impact it places upon registrants in terms of costly fees and interference with employment receive enough attention. Higher unemployment means more welfare dependence for entire households, and false alarms and increased workload can overwhelm resources of law enforcement agencies.

In addition, since all EM devices come from private corporations, potentials for abuse are great. At least one GPS monitor line had been found to include a phone which could listen in on conversation, even privileged communications. Another company attempted to market a device that could allow average citizens to detect when anyone wearing a GPS monitor was I the area; this device could have increased vigilante attacks for anyone wearing the devices. Private EM companies have also harassed registrants for payments for their devices.

There are a number of legal arguments left to be made on the constitutionality of lengthy electronic monitoring, but SCOTUS considers EM to be a form of search. The current legal trend has been to weigh whether or not EM usage laws are allowed because the subject has a “diminished expectation of privacy” and meets a “special needs” exception on a case-by-case basis. Lower courts so far have split on the trend though more court rulings have been favorable to registrants than not.


  1. Matt Tyrnauer. “THE PRISONER OF BEDFORD.” Vanity Fair. August 2005. Web. Accessed on 15 May 2019 at
  2. Ryan Nakashima. “AP Exclusive: Google tracks your movements, like it or not”. AP News. 13 Aug 2018. Web. Accessed online on 14 May 2019 at
  3. May Schenwar. “The Quiet Horrors of House Arrest, Electronic Monitoring, and Other Alternative Forms of Incarceration.” Mother Jones. 22 Jan 2015. Accessed on 16 May 2015 at
  4. Robert S. Gable. “The Ankle Bracelet Is History: An Informal Review of the Birth and Death of a Monitoring Technology.” Journal of Offender Monitoring. March 2015, Vol.27, #2, pp. 4-8
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “State Crime Legislation in 2006.” National Conference of State Legislatures. Jan 2007. Web. Accessed online on 15 May 2019 at
  9. Vanessa Ho. “GPS for state sex offenders gets split verdict.” Seattle PI. 11 Dec. 2007. Web. Accessed on 15 May 2019 at
  10. Jonathan Martin, “GPS tracking beset by problems of terrain, technology, and time.” Seattle Times, 28 Sept. 2005.
  11. Jim McKay. “Sex Offenders’ GPS Devices Not a Silver Bullet, States Say.” Government Technology. 26 Jan. 2009. Accessed on 26 Jan 2009 at 2009 99
  12. Dirk Perrefort. “Officials back off of arrest of sex offender.” News Times. 13 Sept 2008. Accessed on  13 Sept 2008 at
  13. “EXPO -Brother Troy, recovering from alcohol & crack cocaine is 7 ½ yrs clean n sober.” WXRW Podcast. 2018. Web. Accessed on 16 May 2019 at
  14. “GPS Accuracy: HDOP, PDOP, GDOP, Multipath & the Atmosphere.” GIS Geography. 24 Feb 2018. Web. Accessed online on 15 May 2019 at
  15. “GPS Accuracy.” Web. Accessed of 15 May 2019 at
  16. Keith L. Alexander. “11 defendants on GPS monitoring charged with violent crimes in past year in D.C..” Washington Post. 9 Feb 2013. Web. Accessed on 15May 2019 at
  17. Eric Markowitz. “Why GPS Doesn’t Always Work for Tracking Convicts.” Voactiv. 17 Apr 2014. Accessed at 15 May 2019 at
  18. “Tracking Sex Offenders with Electronic Monitoring Technology: Implications and Practical Uses for Law Enforcement.” International Association of Chiefs of Police. Aug 2008.
  19. Waldo Covas Quevedo. “Caution: Your GPS Ankle Bracelet Is Listening.” The Crime Report. 25 Oct 2013. Web. Accessed on 16 May 2019 at
  20. James Kilgore and Emmett Sanders. “ANKLE MONITORS AREN’T HUMANE. THEY’RE ANOTHER KIND OF JAIL. Wired. 04 Aug 2018. Accessed on 16 May 2019 at
  21. Marc Renzema & Evan Mayo-Wilson. “Can electronic monitoring reduce crime for moderate to high risk offenders?”Journal of Experimental Criminology. 2005.  1, 215-237
  22. Stephen V. Gies, Randy Gainey, Marcia I. Cohen, Eoin Healy, Dan Duplantier, Martha Yeide, Alan Bekelman, Amanda Bobnis, and Michael Hopps. “Monitoring High-Risk Sex Offenders With GPS Technology: An Evaluation of the California Supervision Program, Final Report.” Development Services Group. April 2012. Accessed on 16 May 2019 at
  23. “Special Review: Assessment of Electronic Monitoring of Sex Offenders on Parole and the Impact of Residency Restrictions.” Office of the Inspector General. Oct 2014. Accessed on 16 May 2019
  24. Olivia Thompson. “Shackled: The Realities of Home Imprisonment.” Equal Justice Under The Law. 14 June 2018. Accessed on 15 May 2019 at
  25. Supra., Kilgore and Sanders. “ANOTHER KIND OF JAIL. 2018
  26. Edward T. Creagan. “Is there any link between cellphones and cancer?” Mayo Clinic. 12 Dec 2018. Web. Accessed on 15 May 2019 at
  27. Maggie Fox. “Cellphone radiation may cause cancer in rats, report finds.” NBC News. 1 Nov 2018. Web. Accessed 15 May 2019 at
  28. “Cell Phones and Cancer Risk.” National Cancer Institute. Web. Accessed on 16 May 2019 at
  29. Supra., Olivia Thomson, “Shackled.” 2018
  30. William Lally. “Op-Ed: Electronic monitoring of criminal offenders a modern-day scarlet letter.” Journal-Star. Gatehouse Media LLC. Web. 3 June 2016. Accessed on 16 May 2019 at
  31. “Electronic Monitoring Reduces Recidivism.” US Dept of Justice. Sept 2011. Web. Accessed on 16 May 2019 at
  32. Ibid.
  33. William Bales, Karen Mann, Thomas Blomberg, Gerry Gaes, Kelle Barrick, Karla Dhungana, & Brian McManus. “A Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment of Electronic Monitoring.” The Florida State University, College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Center for Criminology and Public Policy Research. Jan 2010. Accessed on 16 May 2019 at
  34. Ibid.
  35. Ibid.
  36. Derek W. Logue. “ONCE FALLEN JOB & WELFARE SURVEY 2016.” March 2016. Accessed on 16 May 2019 at
  37., 2018
  38. Supra., Olivia Thompson, “Shackled”
  39. Ibid.
  40. Ibid.
  41. Supra, Florida State 2010, p.102
  42. Supra., California OIG report 2014, p. 5-6
  43. Ibid., p.6
  44. Jack Karsten and Darrell M. West. “Decades later, electronic monitoring of offenders is still prone to failure.” 21 Sept 2017. Web. Accessed 16 May 2019 at
  45. Robert S. Gable. “Let’s Stop Using Ankle Bracelets to Monitor Offenders.” IEEE Spectrum. 20 July 2017. Eb. Accessed on 16 May 2019 at
  46. Ibid.
  47. Olivia Solon. “Digital shackles’: the unexpected cruelty of ankle monitors.” The Guardian. 28 Aug 2018. Accessed on 16 Aug 2018 at
  48. James Kilgore. “Electronic Monitoring: Some Causes for Concern.” Prison Legal News. 15 Marh 2012. Accessed on 16 May 2019 at
  49. Jean Dubail. “Warning sex offenders; ‘Offendar’ may find you.” Cleveland Plain Dealer. 4 Dec 2007. Web. Accessed on 17 May 2018 at
  50. Int’l Assn. Chiefs of Police, 2008. P. 9
  51. See People v. Meyer and People v. Lowe, 606 N.E.2d. People v. Molz, 113 N.E.2d, People v. Johnson 528 N.E.2d, State v. Burdin 924 S.W.2d ,People v. Letterlough 655 N.E.2d, Lindsay v. State 606 So. 2D.
  52. Eric Dante. “Tracking the Constitution – The Proliferation and Legality of Sex-Offender GPS-Tracking Statutes,” Seton Hall Law Review: 2012. Vol. 42: Iss. 3, Article 6. p.1203. Accessed on 21 Mar 2013 at
  53. Ibid., p.1204-1205.
  54. Washington HB 1142 – 2009-10, more info at