In a story posted on 11/23/11, I wrote about how the Supreme court was hearing a case about a man, Antoine Jones, who was convicted of drug charges after a court supported the use of police placing a GPS tracking device on his car.
A federal appeals court in Washington had overturned Jones’ drug conspiracy conviction because police did not have a warrant when they installed a GPS device on his vehicle and then tracked his movements for a month. The Supreme Court agreed with the appeals court.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must get a search warrant before using GPS technology to track criminal suspects.
The ruling represents a serious complication for law enforcement nationwide, which increasingly relies on high tech surveillance of suspects, including the use of various types of satellite technology.
A GPS device installed by police on Washington nightclub owner Antoine Jones’ Jeep helped them link him to a house used to stash money and drugs. He was sentenced to life in prison before the appeals court overturned the conviction.
Associate Justice Antonin Scalia said that the government’s installation of a GPS device, and its use to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search, meaning that a warrant is required.
Scalia wrote, “By attaching the device to the Jeep” that Jones was using, “officers encroached on a protected area.” He concluded that the installation of the device on the vehicle without a warrant was a trespass and therefore an illegal search.
All nine justices agreed that the GPS monitoring on the Jeep violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
In one of the concurring opinions, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the trespass was not as important as the suspect’s expectation of privacy and that the long-term duration of the surveillance impinged on that expectation of privacy. Police monitored the Jeep’s movements over the course of four weeks after attaching the GPS device.
Alito added, “We need not identify with precision the point at which the tracking of this vehicle became a search, for the line was surely crossed before the four-week mark.”
Alito also said the court should address how expectations of privacy affect whether warrants are required for remote surveillance using electronic methods that do not require the police to install equipment, such as GPS tracking of mobile telephones.
In my opinion, the Supreme Court’s ruling is not surprising. It will be interesting to see if the court eventually makes a similar ruling regarding the GPS tracking of mobile phones. Will authorities need a warrant to track a suspect’s whereabouts via their cell phones?
Read story@ msnbc