The US Supreme Court ruled today that police must first obtain a search warrant before using GPS devices to track a suspect’s vehicle, agreeing with an earlier appeals court ruling but rejecting the Obama administration’s position on the case.
The decision (pdf) in what is arguably the biggest Fourth Amendment case in the computer age, rejected the Obama administration’s position, reports Wired. The government had told the high court that it could affix GPS devices on the vehicles of all members of the Supreme Court, without a warrant.
In delivering the decision, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the court holds “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,'” and therefore violated the individual’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Justice Samuel Alito also wrote a concurring opinion in which he said the court should have gone further and dealt with GPS tracking of wireless devices, like mobile phones. He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
In all, five justices said physically attaching the GPS device to the underside of a car amounted to trespassing and was a search requiring a warrant. During oral arguments in the case in November, a number of justices invoked the specter of Big Brother if the police could secretly attach GPS devices on Americans’ cars without getting a probable-cause warrant.
Roger Easton, the man who designed and invented the Global Positioning System (GPS), formally asked the Supreme Court to consider his amicus curiae (friend of the court) opinion in the United States v. Jones case. Easton wanted the Supreme Court to take a closer look at how GPS tracking technology works and act to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans.
The New York Times called the US v. Jones case “the most important Fourth Amendment case in a decade.”
Law professor Jeffrey Rosen, the co-editor of the new book Constitution 3.0: Freedom and Technological Change, details how technological changes that were unimaginable at the time of the Founding Fathers are challenging our notions of things like personal vs. private space, freedom of speech and our own individual autonomy.
Related Dailywireless articles include Communications Law: Net Neutrality & Surveillence, NSA: Back to Court?, US Government: More Surveillance Power, Warrantless Cellphone Tracking Judged Unconstitutional, How Your Location & Preferences are Recorded, Behavioral Targeting: Kill/Capture, Google Vs The Feds and Spy Squirrels Captured.