Monday, January 23, 2012

Supreme Court Rules that Affixing a GPS Device to a Vehicle Constitutes a Search

The Roberts Court, 2010

On Monday, January 23, 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that affixing a GPS device to a vehicle and monitoring its every move constitutes a ‘search’. However, the majority of Supreme Court declined to say whether this type of search requires a warrant in all cases. This is extremely substantial for United States v. Jones because it holds that the search was both reasonable lawful:

The Government argues in the alternative that even if the attachment and use of the device was a search, it was reasonable—and thus lawful—under the Fourth Amendment because “officers had reasonable suspicion, and in-deed probable cause, to believe that [Jones] was a leader in a large-scale cocaine distribution conspiracy.” Brief for United States 50–51.

Although they viewed this as both reasonable and lawful, the nine justices agreed to toss out the life sentence of Jones who was the subject of a warrantless, 28-day surveillance via GPS. The Supreme Court ruled that Jones’ Fourth Amendment rights had been violated and that the FBI needed a warrant to track jones.

Four justices in a minority opinion said that prolonged GPS surveillance is a search that requires a warrant. But the four justices did not comment on whether GPS monitoring for shorter periods of time would also require a warrant.

With technology advancing at the rate that it is, the Fourth Amendment will continue to be threatened. The government will have new tools at their disposal to monitor the general public and catch criminals. But at what cost is this to us? Some may argue it is protecting us, but this protection comes with the loss of some of the liberties that this country is built upon. Personally, I believe that Andrew Jones is a criminal and should not be free on the streets, but my feelings towards upholding the Fourth Amendment are much stronger and more important than this belief.

The Supreme Court made the right decision and GPS surveillance should definitely be considered a search. The only thing I worry is that as technology advances the liberties our country is built upon may be threatened by a power-hungry government.

1 comment:

  1. The first thing that came to mind when I read this was the evolution of Google Maps. I know it's not exactly a GPS device, but with advancing technology, you can learn more and more about a person's location or any location at all from your computer. What rights are being violated when a Google Maps car drives past your house and posts a 3D rendering to the internet?

    As people continue to welcome revolutionary technologic advances, I think must too accept the fact that their privacy will be sacrificed. The line between public and private are really being tested as technology becomes more integrated into our everyday lives and will probably only continue to do so. If we have the technology to track a vehicle for an extended period of time and if it could be used to promote the public good, do we stand up for our safety or our privacy?