GPS Tracking Needs a Warrant

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The Supreme Court ruled today that law enforcement agencies need to obtain a warrant before using GPS tracking on a person’s vehicle.  The ruling for United States v. Jones came from an appeal by the Justice Department of a lower court’s ruling that GPS tracking required a warrant.  Antoine Jones was a Washington D.C. nightclub owner whose movements were tracked surreptitiously by the police who had attached a GPS tracking device to his vehicle.  His movements were tracked over a period of four weeks in 2005 and the results were used to help convict Jones of cocaine trafficking.  This ruling overturns Jones’ conviction.

The ruling applies directly to attaching GPS tracking devices to a person’s car or other property but the Justices noted in their statements that the same ruling might also apply when tracking movement in a person’s device that is already equipped with a GPS such a smartphone or tablet.  Justice Antonin Scalia, in his opinion, justified the decision based on the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights that  guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, noting  “The government’s physical intrusion on the Jeep for the purpose of obtaining information constitutes a search.”  

The decision was 9-0.


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