Supreme Court Shoots Down Warrantless GPS Tracking

The U.S. Supreme Court might have delivered a big blow Monday to GPS surveillancetechniques used by law enforcement.

In effect, the justices ruled that long-term surveillance of a vehicle by attaching a GPS device without an extended warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In three separate opinions, the nine justices confirmed that law enforcement’s placement in 2004 of a GPS tracking device on the vehicle of accused drug trafficker Antoine Jones’ vehicle for a period of 28 days constituted a “search,” as defined by previous case law concerning the Fourth Amendment.

The justices differed, however, on the particulars of how the GPS technology was utilized.

A joint FBI-police team in Washington, D.C., had a warrant, but it was only authorized for use within a 10-day period and only in the District of Columbia. Officers waited until the 11th day to attach the GPS device and did so in Maryland, outside of the warrant’s jurisdiction.

Writing for a five-justice majority, Antonin Scalia, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor, believed that further justification was needed before using a GPS device in the situation.

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