Supreme courtOn Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina’s highest court must re-examine a sex offender’s case to determine whether a law requiring him to wear a GPS tracking bracelet for life is constitutional.

Torrey Dale Grady was convicted of a second-degree sex offense in 1997 and then of taking indecent liberties with a child in 2006. As a repeat offender, Grady was sentenced to three years in jail. Upon his release in 2013, he was ordered to permanently wear a GPS tracker. The monitoring device allows state officials to receive information about all of Grady’s movements. In order to maintain the tracking device, state officials are permitted to enter Grady’s home unannounced. According to Grady, he must also be plugged into a wall outlet for four to six hours daily in order to keep the bracelet charged.

Grady is one of 600 sex offenders in North Carolina that currently wears such a monitoring device.

Grady immediately appealed the order requiring him to permanently wear the GPS device claiming that it violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Grady’s claims were rejected by North Carolina courts but the Supreme Court found that this tracking could be unconstitutional.

In its opinion, the Court cited its recent decision in United States v. Jones which held that:

“the Government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search.’

In light of [this] decision[], it follows that a State also conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual’s movements.”

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Drone 2As Sarah Ovaska reported this morning in her story on some of the hidden gems in this year’s state budget bill, North Carolina now has – with virtually no meaningful public discussion — a new and flawed law on the use of those cute little aerial spying machines known as “drones.”

Unmanned aircraft, also known as drones, can no longer be used by people or state agencies to conduct surveillance without landowners’ consent. The law carves out some exceptions for law enforcement and media covering news event, and makes adding a weapon to a drone a felony. Outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen need to pay attention: using a drone to hunt or fish is now a misdemeanor. Some of the wording in the budget still leaves questions about how to legally use drones, and the new rules may make it difficult to use drones to take photographs or video for artistic purposes, said Sarah Preston, of the ACLU of North Carolina. “There’s still a lot of stuff that’s left up in the air,” she said.

One of the state’s most active and engaged critics of drone use and the backroom efforts of politicians with connections to the drone industry is Asheville activist/advocate Barry Summers. Yesterday, Summers authored a forceful critique of the new law in the Asheville Citizen-Times. As Summers notes:

During the final days of the budget train wreck in Raleigh, H1099 (Unmanned Aircraft Regulation) was slipped anonymously into the 2014 budget. This is the perfect, shameful and shabby end to a process where the GOP-led NCGA has failed to protect our civil liberties. Read More


Drone 2North Carolina lawmakers moving quickly ahead with troubling proposals to rapidly expand law enforcement surveillance via unmanned “drone” aircraft should take a look at the newest poll numbers on the subject.

This is new from the good folks at the ACLU of North Carolina:

Poll: 72% of North Carolina Voters Support Warrant Requirement for Drone Surveillance

As State Legislative Committee Studies Ways to Regulate Drone Use, New Poll Shows Overwhelming Support for Warrant Requirements to Protect Privacy   

RALEIGH – Seventy-two percent of North Carolina voters believe law enforcement and other government agencies should be required to obtain a warrant from a judge before using a drone, or unmanned aircraft, to conduct surveillance on a private citizen, according to a new poll released today by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC) and conducted by Public Policy Polling. Only 13% of those polled said they did not support the warrant requirement.   Read More


Drone 2The debate over the use of drones – especially by domestic law enforcement agencies – is an issue that’s drawing lots of attention these days as more and more citizens and public officials of all political persuasions worry about the privacy implications.

Last year, the North Carolina General Assembly considered a promising bit of legislation (”The Preserving Privacy Act of 2013”) that would have prohibited individuals and government agencies, including law enforcement, from using drones to gather evidence or other data on individuals without first obtaining a warrant that shows probable cause of criminal activity. The bill included an exception that would have allowed law enforcement to use a drone to conduct searches if the agency possesses “reasonable suspicion” that immediate action is necessary to prevent certain types of immediate harm.

Unfortunately, the bill never advanced and now things appear to be headed in a distinctly different direction. Read More