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On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute Sues City Commission, Defends NYC Taxi Drivers Against Warrantless, Government-Mandated Surveillance System

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of several New York City taxi drivers who object to a mandate by a city agency requiring that GPS devices be attached to their taxis in order to track their movements. In filing a Fourth Amendment lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Institute attorneys assert that the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, which is a government agency, violated taxi drivers’ civil rights by using GPS devices to not only conduct continuous surveillance of drivers’ movements but also used the tracked information against the drivers in subsequent legal proceedings. The lawsuit follows on the heels of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Jones that the warrantless placement of a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s vehicle violates the Fourth Amendment.

The Rutherford Institute’s complaint in Koffi Aka and Robert Carniol v. David Yassky, et al., is available here.

“As the Supreme Court has recognized, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from attaching tracking devices to our vehicles without first securing a search warrant,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “No matter how you look at it, this surveillance system put in place by a government agency not only violates the rights of taxi drivers to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents, it also invades the privacy of any passengers traveling with them.”

In 2007, New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, an agency of the City of New York, mandated that all New York City medallion taxis be equipped with a Taxi Technology System (TTS), which includes a GPS tracking device. The device transmits information to the Commission, revealing the taxi’s location, when a new trip is initiated, the number of passengers, the point where the trip is terminated, and the fare for the trip, among other information. Called on to justify the surveillance system, the Commission assured taxi drivers and the public that the system would not be used to track drivers but would be used for “customer service improvements,” for regulatory analysis, assisting in locating passengers’ lost property, and to eliminate the need for drivers to complete handwritten trip sheets for each fare. However, in 2010, the Commission, relying almost exclusively on tracking information provided by the TTS, began a campaign to prosecute taxi drivers for alleged overcharging of customers and indicated it would seek to revoke the licenses of up to 2,300 taxi drivers. Taxi drivers Koffi Aka and Robert Carniol, among the drivers charged by the Commission based solely upon TTS tracking data, presently face revocation of their licenses and fines.

In filing suit against the Commission on behalf of Aka and Carniol, Institute attorneys allege that the GPS surveillance constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment and that data gleaned from the devices should be barred from any legal proceedings against the men because the information was obtained without probable cause or a warrant. Institute attorneys point to the recent unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Jones, which held that police must get a search warrant before using GPS technology to track criminal suspects. The Rutherford Institute filed an amicus brief in the case, insisting that individuals have a reasonable expectation that they will not be subject to constant monitoring by the government, and that escalating secretive technological surveillance violates an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy. New York attorney Daniel L. Ackman is assisting The Rutherford Institute in its defense of the taxi drivers’ Fourth Amendment rights.

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