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Supreme Court Rules Warrants Needed for GPS Monitoring 354

gambit3 writes "The Supreme Court has issued its ruling in the case of Washington, D.C. nightclub owner Antoine Jones, saying police must get a search warrant before using GPS technology to track criminal suspects. A federal appeals court in Washington overturned his drug conspiracy conviction because police did not have a warrant when they installed a GPS device on his vehicle and then tracked his movements for a month."
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Supreme Court Rules Warrants Needed for GPS Monitoring

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  • by sed quid in infernos ( 1167989 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:11PM (#38794371)

    A brief read of Justice Sotomayer's concurring opinion seems to characterize the differences in the justice's reasoning as follows:

    1.) Scalia, Sotomayer, Roberts, Thomas, and Kennedy formed the majority in the opinion of the court, which relied on the fact that a trespass occured when the physical device was planted on the car. The majority did not look at any issues other than the trespass one because the trespass issue was sufficient to decide the case. Sotomayer describes it his way: "By contrast, the trespassory test applied in the majority’s opinion reflects an irreducible constitutional minimum: When the Government physically invadespersonal property to gather information, a search occurs. The reaffirmation of that principle suffices to decide this case."

    2.) Alito, joined by Breyer, Kagan, and Ginsburg, focused more on the impact of obtaining the knowledge - that is, whether GPS tracking data, regardless of whether it's obtained via physical trespass or some other way, falls within the expectation of privacy protected by the fourth amendment. Alito would hold that trespass is irrelevant to 4th amendment law, and that only the expectation of privacy issue is relevant.

    3.) Sotomayer (who joined the opinion of the Court), thinks that Alito's dismissal of the trespassory test would do harm to the constitutional protections, but emphasizes that, in other cases where no trespass occurs, the Court should also analyze expectation of privacy.

    In sum, we have 5 justices who are willing to apply a trespassory analysis (which means physically attaching a device to a car is subject to the warrant and reasonableness requirements of the 4th amendment), 5 justices who think the expectation of privacy involved in one's movements should provide 4th amendment protection when long-term electronic tracking is used, regardless of whether trespass occurs, and at least 1 who thinks both apply.

    It should be noted that, if I'm reading Sotomayer's concurring opinion correctly, the 4 in the majority other than Sotomayer should not be viewed as having rejected the application of the expectation of privacy test to electronic location tracking. Rather, they've emphasized that the expectation of privacy test is in addition to the trespassory test, and expressly declined to evaluate it because the trespassory test was conclusive.

    A couple of other notes:

    (1) The government did obtain a warrant in this case, but the placed the tracker on the car outside the time and physical location the warrant gave permission for. The Court did not consider the government's argument that the technical violation of the warrant's strictures rendered the search unreasonable, holding that the government waived those arguments. Therefore, we don't have any insight into how strictly the requirements of warrants will be applied.

    (2) The Court did not address this, but it's not hard to imagine scenarios where the Court might allow tracking without a warrant. For example, if an officer witnesses a crime but cannot effect an arrest, the Court might allow an officer to plant a device without a warrant due to exigency, and thereafter apply for a warrant. Similarly, the Court might allow a device to be planted during the course of a high-speed chase without warrant, if the means to do so are invented. I want to emphasize this is total speculation on my part, but fourth amendment law goes far beyond "did a search occur?"

    (3) Although there's no holding yet, there's very good reason to believe that obtaining GPS data from non-trespassory means, such as from OnStar or a cell phone, will also require a warrant.

  • Re:5-4 decision huh? (Score:5, Informative)

    by schwit1 ( 797399 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:12PM (#38794407)

    It was 9-0.

    Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Thomas, and Sotomayor, JJ., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed a concurring opinion. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ., joined.

  • Re:yeah (Score:5, Informative)

    by mindcandy ( 1252124 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:15PM (#38794469)
    No, because of the exclusionary rule. (see Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385 (1920)). The courts have held (rightfully so) that the law itself is more important that ultimate justice. To hold otherwise just encourages misconduct.
  • Re:yeah (Score:4, Informative)

    by satsuke ( 263225 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:15PM (#38794471)

    .. if any evidence was gathered as a result of the unlawful surveillance, than that evidence would not be admissible in a court of law.

    He might or might not be found guilty .. but if he is, it won't be based "dirty" evidence.

  • by PortHaven ( 242123 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:19PM (#38794555) Homepage

    Why bother?

    Everything you just said above is supported by our the current President's administration.

    Remember it was President Obama's guys arguing in favor of this...not Newt's.

    Just saying..


    The difference between GWB & BO. A "GW" on the left, and an "O" on the right. All the policies are still the same as Reagan and Clinton's.

  • by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:21PM (#38794599) Journal
    While the court did rule 9-0 that the tracking was too extensive and had to be thrown out, the court split 5-4 on the reasoning and scope of the ruling. The majority opinion held that the tracking was invalidated by the fact that police used the defendant's private property (his car), in violation of the 4th amendment. This largely sidesteps the much broader questions about stake: police use of GPS tracking in cellphones, camera networks backed by face/vehicle/license plate recogniztion software, etc. The minority opinion sought to invalidate the tracking on more broad grounds such as the duration (one month), continuous nature, expectation of privacy in the modern age, etc. But, being the minority opinion, it doesn't exactly have the same force behind it. Their opinion, however, is likely to form a blueprint for how these things can get argued going forward. It is certain that these issues will come up again and again in the Court.

    More information and explanation of the ruling can be found at the NYTimes [nytimes.com], wikipedia [wikipedia.org], and the court's opinion text (PDF [supremecourt.gov]).
  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:23PM (#38794633)
    There are two interesting facts about this ruling. First all nine Justices agreed that the use of the GPS without a warrant in this case was unconstitutional. However, 4 of the Justices felt that it might have been Constitutional if done for a shorter period of time. What is interesting about that is that the divide was not along the usual divide. The majority opinion was supported by Scalia (who wrote it), Roberts, Thomas, Kennedy (the "swing" vote) and Sotomayor (generally considered a "liberal" vote). While the minority opinion was written by Alito (generally considered a "conservative" vote) and joined by the rest of the Court's "liberals" (Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan).
  • by mindcandy ( 1252124 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:30PM (#38794761)
    re (2) : these exist. http://www.starchase.com/ [starchase.com]
  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Informative)

    by DrgnDancer ( 137700 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:38PM (#38794943) Homepage

    Ironically in this case, they had probable cause and a warrant. Oddly they chose to ignore the terms of the warrant and invalidate their search. I was reading the facts of this case, and I was appalled; both by the incompetence of the police and their assumptions about privacy and searches. A Federal judge issued a combines FBI/DC police team a warrant to install a GPS device on this guy's car for a ten day period in DC (I'm not clear on whether they had to ten days to install the device, or they could only track him for ten days. It's immaterial as you'll see.) They waited 11 days and got one of the feds to do it outside of DC (he was in Maryland).

    So they went through the trouble of establishing probable cause and getting the warrant; then merrily decided that the warrant didn't matter and proceeded to ignore its restrictions.

  • by blueg3 ( 192743 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:40PM (#38794987)

    Your GPS receiver can only be used against you if you are arrested and it is confiscated, at which point any history stored in the device may (depending on the warrant) be obtained and admitted as evidence.

    They cannot be used to track you.

  • Re:cookie (Score:4, Informative)

    by chill ( 34294 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:45PM (#38795075) Journal

    Are you an idiot, or just trolling?

    They're talking about attaching a covert tracking device that uses GPS to record your location. It is placed covertly by law enforcement and retrieved covertly (they hope) by law enforcement. You have no access to the device and it is a criminal act if you tamper with it.

    They are NOT talking about the navigation unit in your car or phone.

  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Informative)

    by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @03:03PM (#38795411)

    Your post should be +5

    It's amazing how many people don't understand checks-and-balances even though they learned it in school. And I'm not just talking about the 3 branches of government, but also the Check of the States upon the central power (tenth amendment).

    The U.S. is like the European Union. A single whole but composed of multiple sovereign governments that retain most of the power to themselves.

  • Re:Ruling..... (Score:5, Informative)

    by DesScorp ( 410532 ) <DesScorp@GmaMENCKENil.com minus author> on Monday January 23, 2012 @03:14PM (#38795567) Homepage Journal

    They got one right?!?!

    They got two right, with the recent religious freedom case in Hosana-Tabor vs. EEOC. And just like that case, this was a unanimous decision from SCOTUS. That's two Supreme Court ass-kickings in a row for this administration, from both sides of the aisle. I had always thought that the upcoming "Obamacare" case would be a 5-4 ruling either way, depending on what side of the bed Anthony Kennedy woke up on that morning. Now I'm not so sure. I don't think that one will be unanimous too, but now I wouldn't be surprised if it were 6-3 or 7-2 against. SCOTUS seems to be a lot more attuned to the notion that the Constitution is a restraining order against government lately.

  • Re:cookie (Score:5, Informative)

    by link-error ( 143838 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @03:18PM (#38795613)
  • Re:Ruling..... (Score:4, Informative)

    by SydShamino ( 547793 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @06:01PM (#38797777)

    And 4 out of 9 - almost a majority - believed that this tracking was wrong because of our right to privacy even in a public place, not solely because tracking of this sort constitutes a "search" by the government.

    If just one more justice would agree, then we could finally start our privacy rights growing again instead of eroding.

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