Monday morning the Supreme Court handed down a 9 – 0 decision on the 4th Amendment and privacy right ruling that police must obtain a warrant before they can place GPS device on a person’s vehicle. The ruling in United States v. Jones upholds a citizen’s right to privacy and smacks down the Obama administrations defense of unlimited surveillance. The ruling overturns the drug conviction of Antoine Jones that used information from a GPS device that was placed on his vehicle without a warrant.
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled that the police violated the Constitution when they placed a Global Positioning System tracking device on a suspect’s car and monitored its movements for 28 days.
But the justices divided 5-to-4 on the rationale for the decision, with the majority saying that the problem was the placement of the device on private property. That ruling avoided many difficult questions, including how to treat information gathered from devices installed by the manufacturer and how to treat information held by third parties like cellphone companies. [..]
Though the ruling was limited to physical intrusions, the opinions in the case collectively suggested that a majority of the justices are prepared to apply broad Fourth Amendment privacy principles unrelated to such intrusions to an array of modern technologies, including video surveillance in public places, automatic toll collection systems on highways, devices that allow motorists to signal for roadside assistance and records kept by online merchants.
One of the Obama administration’s main arguments in support of warrantless GPS tracking was the high court’s 1983 decision in United States v. Knotts, in which the justices ruled it was OK for the government to use beepers known as “bird dogs” to track a suspect’s vehicle without a warrant. In that case, the police had the consent of that truck’s owner, which was not the case in the opinion decided Monday, Scalia wrote.
Law Professor Jonathan Turley provides broader discussion of the two opinions that were written by Justices Samuel Alito and Anton Scalia. Scalia’s opinion prevailed with Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor concurring.
Whether the electronic surveillance, if achieved without having to physically trespass on Jones’s property, would have been “an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.”