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Unwarranted GPS Surveillance


Unwarranted GPS Surveillance

To obtain a warrant, or not to obtain a warrant for GPS surveillance?

That is the question the Supreme Court will hear arguments on this Tuesday, as federal officials seek unfettered use of geo-location tracking technology.

Wired writes:

The question before the justices asks: May the police secretly install a Global Positioning System device on a vehicle without a probable cause warrant issued by a judge in order to track a suspect’s every move?

The last time the justices were confronted with the blending of technology and privacy was a decade ago before the mass proliferation of GPS gadgets. The high court at the time ruled in favor of constitutional protections when it concluded that thermal-imaging devices used to detect marijuana-growing operations inside a house amounted to a search and therefore required a court warrant. Contrast this to a prior ruling in 1983 when the justices said it was okay for the government to use beepers known as “bird dogs” to track a suspect’s vehicle without a warrant.

ComputerWorld lays out the details of the case:

The case involves Antoine Jones of Washington, D.C., who was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to life in prison for possessing and conspiring to distribute more than 50 kilograms of cocaine.

Key government evidence in the case was gathered via a GPS tracking device that was surreptitiously attached to Jones' vehicle and used by the FBI to track his movements for about a month.

Jones, a nightclub owner, argues that the tracking was illegal because it was initiated and carried out without a court order.

His lawyers maintain that affixing the GPS device on his vehicle violated the Fourth Amendment by conducting search and seizure without a warrant. Jones sought to have evidence gathered from the GPS tracking suppressed.

Federal officials hope the Supreme Court will rule that individuals have no "reasonable expectation of privacy" while traveling on public roads, though the implications are much broader.

"If the Supreme Court were to rule against warrants for GPS tracking, the state of Pennsylvania could, for example, decide tomorrow that all license plates would be issued with a GPS monitor," warned Norman Sadeh, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, in a statement of the university's home page. [ibid]

While this case is limited to just discussing whether or not law enforcement officials must receive a warrant before attaching a GPS device to a suspects car, it highlights another area of concern, whether or not Americans are ever truly "secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects" in this brave new world. 

Technology has certainly come a long way since 1983, yet privacy laws have not kept up with the pace.

The "Electronic Communications Privacy Act" was the last law passed to protect private individuals information from unauthorized government access — in 1986.

It has in fact only been weakened since, with the passage of the so-called "Patriot" Act.

During the latest reauthorization of the "Patriot" Act, Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall spoke out against what they called the 'Secret' "Patriot" Act.  In other words, the DOJ and other law enforcement agencies were interpreting the law in a manner different than most Americans would understand it by just a plain reading of the law.

It is widely believed this "secret" interpretation revolves around geo-location tracking, as partly evidenced by Senator Ron Wyden and Rep. Jason Chaffetz introducing legislation in both Houses, the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act, H.R. 2168 & S. 1212, shortly after the "Patriot" Act was reauthorized.

[It should be noted, that while the underlying purpose of the Geolocation Privacy Act is one worth supporting, C4L believes it steps out of Constitutional-bounds by applying restrictions to the private sector and individuals.

Tomorrow's Supreme Court case is one with far-reaching implications, and one worth paying attention to.  


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