US Supreme Court Rules Warrants Required For GPS Tracking
Law enforcement must have a search warrant before using GPS technology to track suspects. Installation of a GPS device on a vehicle, which was used to monitor a vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search according to the unanimous ruling written by Justice Antonin Scalia.
The ruling stems from a Washington DC case where police installed a GPS device on a nightclub owner’s car to track his movements. Data from the device showed that the owner was involved in drug-related offenses; it linked the owner to a house used to stash money and drugs. The District Court had ruled that the defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy when the vehicle was on public streets, although it suppressed the GPS data obtained. A life-sentence was handed down at trial before an appellate court overturned the conviction.
The full text of the ruling, U.S. v. Jones, 10-1259, is here.
Of particular note is that while the case was unanimous as to the GPS and need for a search warrant, and that this instance was an unconstitutional infringement on the defendant’s 4th Amendment rights, several of the justices, including Alito (joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan) thought that the ruling didn’t go far enough - and that it should have addressed not only the GPS on vehicles, but GPS of mobile devices, like smartphones.