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Who's Watching You?

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WUSA) -- If your spouse was cheating on you, how far would you go to catch him -- or her?

Maybe you'd hire a private investigator. But would you want the government spying on them? 

At issue is a tracker based on the familiar GPS device, but stuck secretly under your car and used not to get you where you're going -- but to spy on you.

Private Investigator Mike Russell and his partner Rick Alpert have used the device for years to track cheating spouses at Legal Investigations, Inc in Alexandria. The newest technology pinpoints you live on a satellite photo.... and Rick is playing along.

"Hey Rick, it's Bruce Leshan at Channel 9, where the heck are you buddy?"

"I'm over here with a client meeting in Reston."

Actually, he's at a strip club in Springfield. "I got you at the Paper Moon Gentleman's Club."

"Hmm. Seems like I got some explaining to do."

So what about the government. Should federal agents, police, be allowed to stick it on your car, without a warrant?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit just tossed out the drug conviction of a guy named Antoine Jones. The judges ruled authorities needed a warrant to hide a GPS on his car.

"They could be following the suspect's mother," says private investigator Mike Russell. He says he'll only use a GPS if their client's on the car title. And he figures police ought to have some ground rules too. "To just put it on as a matter of investigation, no.... Need a warrant."

Police and federal agents insist a GPS tracker is just a high tech way of tailing a car. And they've always been allowed to do that.
But privacy advocates say 24 hour electronic surveillance is way different.

In his book 1984, George Orwell raised the specter of a dictatorial government that electronically spied on it's citizens everywhere they went -- even their own homes.

There's a big argument in courts across the country right now over authorities spying on you with these devices.

Attorney Steve Leckar represented Antoine Jones in that case before the DC appeals court. "There was no judge overseeing this. There was no finding of probable cause. They just went out and did it on their own."

"So it's going to be that much harder to police the District," says Kristopher Baumann, a leader of the DC Police Union. "This is fundamental police work. There is not an expectation of privacy. These cars driving by us, there is not an expectation of privacy. And that's all these GPS transmitters are doing is tracking them on public roads."

Three appeals courts have sided with the police -- and one with Antoine Jones. Warrant or no warrant -- it's likely the Supreme Court will decide.

The Virginia Court of Appeals just sided with Fairfax County Police, who put a GPS tracker on a sex offenders car. But that ruling only applies in the Commonwealth.

Written by Bruce Leshan
9NEWS NOW & wusa9.com