SCOTUS Puts Limits on Secret GPS Tracking

 

Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided US v. Jones, a case I posted about a little while ago. The case involved an investigation into a suspected drug runner, Antoine Jones. The police secretly attached a small GPS tracker to the underside of Jones’ car. Once installed (and serviced when the batteries ran down), it remained on the Jeep around the clock for 28 days, producing a 2,000-page log of Jones’s whereabouts. Kinda creepy, no?

The question in Jones was whether the installation of a GPS device constitutes a ”search” under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Court held that it is a “search.”  However – and this is the annoying part – the Court did not say whether the search was “reasonable” in Jones’s case, or whether it would ever be reasonable. There’s a good recap of reactions to the decision over at Scotusblog.

Justice Scalia, bless him, struggled to find an 1791 analogy to GPS devices: Back then, Scalia suggested, “a constable” might conceal himself “in the target’s coach in order to track its movements.”  I’m an originalist, too, but sometimes, we have to reason from slightly more abstract principles (which Nino usually does, but perhaps he was just having fun sparring with Justice Alito, who countered that “this would have required either a gigantic coach, a very tiny constable, or both.”)

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @WhiskeySam

    That left a lot of ambiguity for a 9-0 vote.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @Pseudodionysius

    Adam,

    Did anyone think about this being applied to a tax case? I’m thinking the IRS could justify a warrantless GPS on a corporate vehicle to track mileage claimed, or am I nuts?

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Member
    @Misthiocracy
    Pseudodionysius: Adam,

    Did anyone think about this being applied to a tax case? I’m thinking the IRS could justify a warrant to track vehicle usage, or am I nuts? · 1 hour ago

    Unless I’m mistaken, the case was only about warrantless GPS tracking.

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @Pseudodionysius
    Misthiocracy

    Pseudodionysius: Adam,

    Did anyone think about this being applied to a tax case? I’m thinking the IRS could justify a warrant to track vehicle usage, or am I nuts? · 1 hour ago

    Unless I’m mistaken, the case was only about warrantless GPS tracking. · 19 minutes ago

    Oops. Looks like I need an edit.

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Member
    @Misthiocracy
    Pseudodionysius Oops. Looks like I need an edit.

    I’ll make an appointment with the veterinarian…

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Contributor
    @AdamFreedman

    I’m glad you guys cleared that up. But yes, the Court didn’t reach the warrant issue, but commentators are saying that the strong implication is that the government had better get a warrant to do this sort of tracking.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Member
    @Misthiocracy
    Adam Freedman: I’m glad you guys cleared that up. But yes, the Court didn’t reach the warrant issue, but commentators are saying that the strong implication is that the government had better get a warrant to do this sort of tracking. · 1 minute ago

    That is, if the government plans to use the evidence in court.

    I think the government could still use warrantless GPS to track terrorism suspects in order to prevent an attack.

    • #7

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