The Justice Department today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve a conflict among federal appellate courts over whether law enforcement officers must obtain a warrant before using GPS technology to covertly follow a person.
Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the life sentence of a Washington area man named Antoine Jones, saying the government violated Jones’ privacy rights in clandestinely tracking his movement for a month in a drug trafficking investigation.
Federal prosecutors used data from a global positioning system device to link Jones to an alleged drug house in Maryland, where the authorities found nearly 100 kilograms of cocaine and about $850,000 in cash. Jone was the co-owner of a nightclub in Washington.
At issue in the Jones case is the extent to which his movement in a vehicle on streets in Maryland and in Washington was public and whether the warrantless GPS tracking constituted a “search” under the Fourth Amendment. The appeals court, in a 5-4 vote, rejected rehearing the dispute, setting up the potential for a Supreme Court case.