Supreme Court Restricts Use of GPS Surveillance
The Supreme Court decided (pdf) on Monday that attaching a gps tracking device to a suspects car (or his wife's jeep, in this case) without a search warrant constitutes a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, known as an unreasonable search and seizure.
The case involved Antonie Jones, a nightclub owner and reputed cocaine dealer. Police had obtained a warrant to install a gps tracking device on Jones' Jeep. They had ten days to install the device within Washington D.C., they installed it on the eleventh day in Maryland, so the warrant did not cover their action. Mr. Jones was convicted, and The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the conviction saying the 28 day tracking of Mr. Jones without a search warrant constituted an unreasonable search and seizure.
The most interesting part of the case is the discussion of why gps surveillance is a violation of privacy. The majority opinion, written by Justice Scalia, claims that the violation of the suspects Fourth Amendment rights occurred because the government invaded private property without a search warrant, "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." Justice Scalia goes on to say that the physical intrusion test is in addition to the reasonable expectation of privacy test that was established in Katz vs. The United States.
Justice Samuel Alito Jr. wrote a concurring opinion for four other judges, saying the application of 18th century logic to 21st century technology "in my judgment, is unwise. It strains the language of the Fourth Amendment; it has little if any support in current Fourth Amendment case law; and it is highly artificial."
All nine justices agree that there will be cases in the future that will add details to our understanding of 21st century technology and the protection of privacy, but this is a landmark case in favor of the protection of privacy.
By Photo by Mr. Kjetil Ree