WASHINGTON – In its first ever review of GPS tracking, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that police need a warrant before attaching a GPS device to a person’s car.
By Joan Biskupic, USA TODAY
The opinion was unanimous, although the justices split in their views of how the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures applies to such high-tech tracking.
The case, which during November oral arguments had prompted justices’ references to George Orwell’s futuristic novel 1984 and to “Big Brother” government, ensures that police cannot use GPS to continuously track a suspect before presenting grounds and obtaining a warrant from a judge.
The court reversed the cocaine-trafficking conviction of a Washington, D.C., nightclub owner. In 2005, police secretly attached a GPS device to a Jeep owned by Antoine Jones while it was parked in a public lot. Agents then used evidence of Jones’ travels over four weeks to help win the conviction on conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
Civil libertarians and defense lawyers praised the ruling in United States v. Jones. “We welcome the Supreme Court’s recognition that the Fourth Amendment must continue to protect against government intrusions even in the face of modern technological surveillance tools,” said Virginia Sloan, president of the Constitution Project, which was among the groups that submitted a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of Jones.
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