Today the Supreme Court began hearing a monumental case about warrantless GPS tracking – US v. Jones. The Obama administration is appealing a ruling that overturned a drug conviction because law enforcement agents installed a GPS tracking device on the suspect’s car and gathered detailed information for 30 days without first obtaining a search warrant.
The Obama administration is arguing that using the GPS tracking device is legal because people should have no expectation of privacy when traveling on public streets.
Before this case started getting so much public attention, most people were not aware that it is legal for a police officer to inconspicuously place a GPS tracking device on your car, without your knowledge or consent, and without first obtaining a warrant. Furthermore, using data from that GPS tracking device, police would be able to know where you go and what you do on an hourly basis.
Now many citizens have developed fears that their privacy is being invaded, and have become concerned that the legal system has not been able to keep up with technology, especially when it comes to warrantless GPS tracking.
A representative from the ACLU pushed the point that this case is not solely about Jones but about the future decisions of the Supreme Court, saying that soon the issue of GPS on a car will be irrelevant as authorities move to simply track out cell phones without warrants since all cell devices have GPS capabilities already installed.
In the US v. Jones case, data from the GPS tracking device helped authorities link Jones to a house used to stash money and drugs. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison before the federal appeals court in Washington overturned the conviction.
The appellate judges said the authorities should have had first obtained a warrant before installing the tracking device. They also stated that the amount of time time the police tracked him, approximately 30 days, was a big factor in their decision.
An interesting variety of interest groups have expressed public support for Mr. Jones, including the Gun Owners of America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Civil Liberties Union and an association of truck drivers. The groups say GPS technology is much more powerful than the beeper technology police once employed in surveillance.
But the Justice Department says the GPS tracking device is no different from a beeper authorities used, with the high court’s blessing in 1983, to help track a suspect to his drug lab. The court said then that people on public roads have no reasonable expectation of privacy.
The Justice Department said GPS devices are especially useful in early stages of an investigation, when they can eliminate the use of time-consuming stakeouts as officers seek to gather evidence. Other appeals courts have ruled that search warrants aren’t necessary for GPS tracking.
Now it is up to the Supreme Court to decide. The case is expected to take several months, and many are hoping for a decision sometime this Spring.
Source: The Associated Press.