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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Do the Police need a warrant to put a GPS tracking device on your car?

This one's actually a trick question, for now anyway.  The Supreme Court of the United States is deciding this issue this term in the case of U.S. v. Jones, and were scheduled to hear arguments from both sides today.  In Jones, the Washington DC Circuit Court held that a month-long GPS tracking device placed without a warrant was unconstitutional.  The Department of Justice disagrees and is appealing to the Supreme Court.  The government's argument centers on the argument that people have no expectation of privacy when they are driving on a public road and the police are currently allowed to tail or follow vehicles in an investigation without a warrant.  Personally, I agree with the DC appellate panel, who reasoned that, "A reasonable person does not expect anyone to monitor and retain a record of every time he drives his car, including his origin, route, destination, and each place he stops and how long he stays there."

It is very easy to see how this investigative technique is ripe for abuse and for further eroding our civil liberties.  Ironically, in the Jones case, FBI agents did actually get approval for a warrant to use the GPS tracking device on Mr. Jones' car; however, they didn't bother to install it until the day after the warrant expired.  I guess it couldn't have been that much of a burden  on the government to get a warrant first, after all, if they didn't even make installing the device a priority.  I will update this entry after the Supreme Court rules.

My prediction is that the Supreme Court will rule that the scope of surveillance and information collected requires a warrant. Feel free to add your prediction in the comments section.

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