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Supreme Court Ruling: GPS Tracking Requires Warrant

On Monday the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that in most cases, police, private investigators, and anyone else in need of tracking someone via GPS must acquire a probable-cause warrant before attaching a stand-alone GPS device to a vehicle they do not own. Attaching a GPS device and tracking the target without the warrant is now deemed illegal under the 4th Amendment.

The ruling goes against the Obama administration's position which claims that attaching a GPS device to a vehicle was not a search. The administration even said that it could attach a GPS device to all nine members og the Supreme Court without a warrant. But the majority of the justices disagreed, ruling that such an action does in fact constitute as a search, especially over a long period of time.

The ruling stems from a case involving a District of Columbia drug dealer who was tracked for a month via a GPS device without a warrant. The long-term tracking was deemed legal at the time he was sentenced, but the Supreme Court saw this as "unreasonable" and tossed out the man's life sentencing. The Justice Department argued that it had probable cause, but admitted it didn't acquire a proper warrant.

According to the court papers, the Justice Department actually landed a warrant to install the GPS device in the District of Columbia and within 10 days. Instead, the agents installed the device on the 11th day while in Maryland. The GPS data was used against him only in instances when the vehicle was on public streets. Essentially the Justice Department screwed up and convicted a man using evidence obtained by warrantless use of the GPS device.

"The Fourth Amendment protects the 'right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,'" reads the court ruling. "Here, the Government’s physical intrusion on an 'effect' for the purpose of obtaining information constitutes a 'search.' This type of encroachment on an area enumerated in the Amendment would have been considered a search within the meaning of the Amendment at the time it was adopted."

But what does that mean for GPS-enabled devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops and even automobiles? Can officials still track these devices without a warrant? Walter Dellinger, the lawyer appealing the drug dealer's conviction, said the decision means that "almost any use of GPS electronic surveillance of a citizen’s movement will be legally questionable unless a warrant is obtained in advance."

To read the full scoop, download the PDF file from the Supreme Court's website here.

  • aftcomet
    Just speed up the process of getting a warrant.
    Reply
  • nebun
    aftcometJust speed up the process of getting a warrant.i am a little confused by your statement
    Reply
  • Parrdacc
    Yeah! Just when I was thinking the law and government was completely out of sync. Too bad it came about because of a drug dealer, but then again I suppose it had to be some sort of criminal. After all the rights we have are for all Americans even if they happen to be criminals, cause if they don't work to protect the lowest then we know they won't work for the rest of us.
    Reply
  • sunflier
    The administration even said that it could attach a GPS device to all nine members of the Supreme Court without a warrant.
    I can't imagine for the life of me why the Supreme Court would rule against unwarranted GPS tracking.
    Reply
  • alidan
    ParrdaccYeah! Just when I was thinking the law and government was completely out of sync. Too bad it came about because of a drug dealer, but then again I suppose it had to be some sort of criminal. After all the rights we have are for all Americans even if they happen to be criminals, cause if they don't work to protect the lowest then we know they won't work for the rest of us.
    makes me sick that he got out on this...

    it should have been a lawsuit case, like the guy who was related to an important islam religious leader who got tracked for a while, took the bug out of his car, and had to give it back. that should have been the case, not against someone who is a real criminal.

    all that said, i dont think all drugs should be illegal, but because he got a life for it, im assumeing its that harder stuff like cocaine, and not pot or lsd.
    Reply
  • sirmorluk
    SCOTUS is on a unanimous roll as of late.
    Reply
  • mrmaia
    Dealing drugs is good, GPS tracking is not.
    Reply
  • NuclearShadow
    Thank goodness for the Supreme Court doing the right thing on this one. The police are not allowed to touch your vehicle in any manner unless they have a warrant. Just like if you get pulled over you have the right to tell them no if they wish to search your vehicle and unless they have a strong probable cause they cannot do so. (denying them the search is also not a justified reason)

    With this unwarranted GPS tracking, not only is this a unjustified search but it likely can criminal within itself. It certainly could be a invasion of privacy and likely other charges.

    Obama administration's position which claims that attaching a GPS device to a vehicle was not a search. The administration even said that it could attach a GPS device to all nine members og the Supreme Court without a warrant.


    And guess who isn't getting my vote next election? Obama has proven time and time again that he cares nothing about human rights not even fellow Americans.
    Reply
  • ubercake
    When the drones are flying over our cities, they won't have as much of a need for attached GPS devices to track people.
    Reply
  • warezme
    it doesn't say they can't track people with GPS anymore just that the police and federal government need probably cause and a warrant. They can't just arbitrarily decide to GPS anyone for any reason. Before, the government tried to say GPS tracking was not a search and did not require warrant. The courts decision makes obvious sense and I am for one glad to see they have ruled it as such. The police and federal agencies will object but it shouldn't effect how they do business if they are truly doing their jobs and just targeting the people doing the crimes.
    Reply