updated 12:50 pm EST, Mon January 23, 2012
Supreme Court demands warrants on GPS searches
The US Supreme Court in a ruling (PDF) has decided that warrantless use of GPS to track suspects is illegal. A unanimous vote determined that attaching a GPS unit to a car or otherwise tracking suspects by GPS without consent would violate the Fourth Amendment's blocks against unreasonable search and seizure. Justices were split evenly as to why, arguing equally that attaching a tracking device by itself and the violations of privacy expectations were at fault.
The finding came in the case of Antoine Jones, an alleged drug dealer police wanted to track to find his whereabouts and drug safehouse locations. Federal investigators got a warrant to track his car by GPS, but installed it a day after the warrant had expired. Rather than stop investigation, they kept tracking for 28 days and used it to find a house with over $850,000 in illegal drugs.
Justice Alito, who led those arguing that the privacy violations were more important than the tracking hardware, noted that even tracking that didn't break into the private property of a car would still have violated the Fourth Amendment.
The decision clears Jones by default, since any criminal activity would be overridden by the violation of basic American tenets of the law to get the conviction. It could have ramifications for other disputes over warrantless searches by arguing that any sustained intrusion into a person's life and communications could be deemed unconstitutional, even if in a digital circumstance such as a GPS tracker. [via Reuters and Ars Technica]