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Supreme Court Rules Warrants Needed for GPS Monitoring

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the get-your-paperwork-in-order dept.

Privacy 354

gambit3 writes "The Supreme Court has issued its ruling in the case of Washington, D.C. nightclub owner Antoine Jones, saying police must get a search warrant before using GPS technology to track criminal suspects. A federal appeals court in Washington overturned his drug conspiracy conviction because police did not have a warrant when they installed a GPS device on his vehicle and then tracked his movements for a month."

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cookie (0, Troll)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794151)

Cookies should require warrants.

Re:cookie (5, Insightful)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794439)

Cookies should require warrants.

As most cookies are not installed by Law Enforcement, you're not quite following the plot.

See, I as a private eye, could install a GPSr device on your car or cookies on your computer to serve me in my private investigations (or even my nefarious plot to take over the world) which has nothing to do with the 4th Amendment -- unless Law Enforcement tries to use any of the data I've gathered.

Your computer is only yours in illusion.

Re:cookie (2)

phogster (892937) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794921)

Your computer is only yours in illusion.

That's akin to saying that your car is not yours because other people can walk up to it and look through the windows.

Re:cookie (2)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794669)

Why?

They are voluntary. Don't like cookies? Disable them. It is your computer. Heck, super paranoid about that? Don't use a computer or don't use a web browser.

Guess what? Every browser made since the early 90s has had an option to disable cookies. There are even tools to make your browsing close to anonymous. There is a huge difference between something you voluntarily consent to, and something that you absolutely do not.

Re:cookie (-1, Flamebait)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 2 years ago | (#38795019)

You dont like being tracked by GPS? Disable them, every time you get in your car disable them. What? Too much hassle? Sorry man, it is your problem....

Re:cookie (3, Informative)

chill (34294) | more than 2 years ago | (#38795075)

Are you an idiot, or just trolling?

They're talking about attaching a covert tracking device that uses GPS to record your location. It is placed covertly by law enforcement and retrieved covertly (they hope) by law enforcement. You have no access to the device and it is a criminal act if you tamper with it.

They are NOT talking about the navigation unit in your car or phone.

Ruling..... (2)

P-niiice (1703362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794173)

They got one right?!?!

Re:Ruling..... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38794233)

Quick someone call the CDC! We have a sudden outbreak of common sense in the Capitol!

Re:Ruling..... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38794417)

Quick someone call the CDC! We have a sudden outbreak of common sense in the Capitol!

I tried but all I heard on the other end of the line sounded like moaning zombies and muffled screams.

Re:Ruling..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38794363)

What's the expression? Even a blind squirrel finds a nut eventually?

they get a lot of them right (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794597)

we just have too highly a politicized process for people to understand that.That includes members of this site who one day will cheer someone/something on and the next day vilify it.

Re:Ruling..... (1)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794697)

Even a broken clock is right twice a day...

Re:Ruling..... (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794733)

My thought exactly, except with a big "DAMN" in front of it.

Re:Ruling..... (5, Interesting)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794929)

Even crazier -- it was a fucking unanimous decision. Not one of them disagreed with the fundamentals.

Good. (4, Insightful)

JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794187)

Hopefully that'll bring this BS to an end, along with ending the jobs of the officers that continue to pull this stunt.
Is getting a search warrant on someone really that time consuming?

Re:Good. (5, Insightful)

halestock (1750226) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794223)

It may not be time consuming, but I'm sure getting a warrant is a real pain in the ass when you don't have probable cause.

Re:Good. (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794571)

Is this the part where someone posts a lolcat macro'd with something ending with "UR DOIN IT RONG!"?

Warrants (5, Interesting)

mindcandy (1252124) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794687)

Depends on the judge (I do a lot of subpoena work, on boths sides).

I have seen some that are "rubber stamped" with only a vague description of what they're after (eg: "computer equipment") .. I have seen some where the judge says "Apartment #3 is not sufficient to identify the residence" and "Computer equipment does not sufficiently identify the property sought" and the police had to go back and get permission (from the landlord) to take a picture of the door and go back to the judge along with serial numbers and such of the devices.

The judge in the 2nd case is doing it right .. because what if the police work is sloppy and the stolen computer is serial number AB123456 and you have a computer that's DE78910 but the same exact model .. guess which defendant is getting their stuff back.

Re:Good. (5, Informative)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794943)

Ironically in this case, they had probable cause and a warrant. Oddly they chose to ignore the terms of the warrant and invalidate their search. I was reading the facts of this case, and I was appalled; both by the incompetence of the police and their assumptions about privacy and searches. A Federal judge issued a combines FBI/DC police team a warrant to install a GPS device on this guy's car for a ten day period in DC (I'm not clear on whether they had to ten days to install the device, or they could only track him for ten days. It's immaterial as you'll see.) They waited 11 days and got one of the feds to do it outside of DC (he was in Maryland).

So they went through the trouble of establishing probable cause and getting the warrant; then merrily decided that the warrant didn't matter and proceeded to ignore its restrictions.

Re:Good. (4, Insightful)

Tsingi (870990) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794249)

Hopefully that'll bring this BS to an end, along with ending the jobs of the officers that continue to pull this stunt. Is getting a search warrant on someone really that time consuming?

The police regularly ignore the rules these days, it rarely ever costs anyone their job. In the future they will probably just not enter that particular info into evidence.

Re:Good. (4, Insightful)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794345)

Hopefully that'll bring this BS to an end, along with ending the jobs of the officers that continue to pull this stunt.
Is getting a search warrant on someone really that time consuming?

The police regularly ignore the rules these days, it rarely ever costs anyone their job. In the future they will probably just not enter that particular info into evidence.

Yeah, but having convictions overturned due to failure to follow the law is a sign of incompetence. Consider this case centered around someone who was undeniably guilty of criminal activity, who will now walk free. That's not quite doing the job of Law Enforcement Officer, is it.

Re:Good. (2)

Jhon (241832) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794667)

"Yeah, but having convictions overturned due to failure to follow the law is a sign of incompetence. Consider this case centered around someone who was undeniably guilty of criminal activity, who will now walk free. That's not quite doing the job of Law Enforcement Officer, is it."

If the evidence obtained without warrant is not entered in to evidence for the trial, and a conviction occurs without any "tainted" evidence, there's no cause for a judgement to be overturned.

I'm not a lawyer, but I think you'll find that it's not uncommon (hardly COMMON, either) for "tainted" evidence to be used in investigations to help find "clean" evidence. And quite possibly argue that the "tainted" evidence can be admitted under the doctrine of inevitable discovery.

The cited cases is not such a circumstance.

This is a particularly narrow ruling.

Re:Good. (4, Insightful)

Tsingi (870990) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794713)

Hopefully that'll bring this BS to an end, along with ending the jobs of the officers that continue to pull this stunt. Is getting a search warrant on someone really that time consuming?

The police regularly ignore the rules these days, it rarely ever costs anyone their job. In the future they will probably just not enter that particular info into evidence.

Yeah, but having convictions overturned due to failure to follow the law is a sign of incompetence. Consider this case centered around someone who was undeniably guilty of criminal activity, who will now walk free. That's not quite doing the job of Law Enforcement Officer, is it.

I figure this is why the action was barred: "The government had told the high court that it could even affix GPS devices on the vehicles of all members of the Supreme Court, without a warrant."
And they said: "Oh no you won't either!"

Re:Good. (2)

Sez Zero (586611) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794273)

Is getting a search warrant on someone really that time consuming?

More time consuming than not getting one; I'm sure most people reading Slashdot understand the potential for laziness. I don't think you need to fire the officers that used GPS; I'm sure they were told it was ok by a bunch of lawyers in their respective departments and bureaus.

That said, I'm happy to see this ruling from the Supreme Court.

Re:Good. (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794625)

I'm sure they never ASKED any lawyers. Not that it matters, since the lawyers would usually be prosecutors, and of course they would be inclined to say yes. Especially over a beer, since this is not a conversation to be had officially.

Now can we get this legal precedent applied to domain seizures? Trolling sites for illegally shared files is alll well and good, but claiming the site operators know what is going on is about as much probable cause as was available in this case. the principle should apply.

Leastways, I wish it did.

Re:Good. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38794793)

My gosh slashdotters are paranoid and ideological, especially for a site that rants about the scientific method whenever it fits the popular side.

Re:Good. (1, Interesting)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794751)

We need more accountability for cops. A cop has the potential to do a lot more harm than a crooked member of congress. Your elected official can't burst into your house with guns drawn. Your neighborhood cop can.

Preferably, either directly elected cops or an elected board that oversees the police departments. Because in most places the only thing checking your neighborhood cop is.... another cop. Imagine if we had the same thing with politicians with no outside checks.

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38794777)

Like the secret NSA courts, which pretty much rubber stamped all warrant requests, and accepted requests AFTER the search had already been done, but STILL the administration can't be bothered to get warrants.

Re:Good. (1)

Ragun (1885816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794533)

Depends on what you are doing. Want a warent to force someone to take a DUI test? Easy. Body turns up in someone's back yard? Easy. Placing GPS on someone, a tad more time consuming.

Though from the length they were tracking, I am betting waiting a few days wouldn't have killed them.

Looks like the terrorists have won (0, Troll)

jmcbain (1233044) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794243)

If you're not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about. In this post-9/11 world, we must give up some of our rights to enjoy freedom. By allowing this so-called right not to have GPS attached to a car, the liberal Supreme Court has allowed terrorists to step one inch closer to Lady Liberty.

Vote pro-America in 2012. Vote Gingrinch.

Re:Looks like the terrorists have won (1)

Lashat (1041424) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794389)

I can only hope that yours is a sarcastic post.

Re:Looks like the terrorists have won (4, Informative)

PortHaven (242123) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794555)

Why bother?

Everything you just said above is supported by our the current President's administration.

Remember it was President Obama's guys arguing in favor of this...not Newt's.

Just saying..

----

The difference between GWB & BO. A "GW" on the left, and an "O" on the right. All the policies are still the same as Reagan and Clinton's.

Re:Looks like the terrorists have won (1)

DC2088 (2343764) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794629)

0/10 would not be trolled again

Re:Looks like the terrorists have won (1)

elsurexiste (1758620) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794811)

I lol'd.

Re:Looks like the terrorists have won (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794849)

In this post-9/11 world, if Lady Liberty isn't willing to beat some terrorists over the head with that damned torch, then the terrorists can have their way with her. I say that she's just playing dead, to lure them closer.

yeah (1, Interesting)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794267)

but just because he was illegally tracked doesn't mean he wasn't still guilty. The police should be disciplined, the criminal shouldn't be let off the hook.

Re:yeah (5, Informative)

mindcandy (1252124) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794469)

No, because of the exclusionary rule. (see Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385 (1920)). The courts have held (rightfully so) that the law itself is more important that ultimate justice. To hold otherwise just encourages misconduct.

Re:yeah (4, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794915)

Unfortunately, the exclusionary rule doesn't punish the cop who broke the law. What we need is a doctrine that says any search, arrest, detention, etc that oversteps legal authority is a crime just as if any non-police officer had done it. Then it's just a matter of prosecuting police misconduct as assault, breaking and entering, etc. You can keep the evidence, but the person who broke the law to get it is going to jail. This is the exact same way evidence is treated if it's collected illegaly by a non-cop, btw.

Of course, prosecutors are going to be poorly-disposed towards prosecuting the cops they work with daily. So we'd need an independent meta-justice system to keep tabs on that.

Re:yeah (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38795025)

How many police officers would be willing to do their jobs or properly pursue criminals if they didnt get at least some accomodation under the law? I'm all for ensuring civil rights and overturming this inane practice of GPS without a warrant, but cops are pushing suspected criminals because it is their job. I don't think we would get better justice by making a habit of pursuing those that pursue suspects.

Re:yeah (3, Informative)

satsuke (263225) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794471)

.. if any evidence was gathered as a result of the unlawful surveillance, than that evidence would not be admissible in a court of law.

He might or might not be found guilty .. but if he is, it won't be based "dirty" evidence.

Re:yeah (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38794477)

Yes he should, if they don't have sufficient evidence that was gathered legally.

Re:yeah (1)

P-niiice (1703362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794487)

He was innocent until proven guilty. If there was enough evidence to suspect him, than a warrant would have been easily obtainable from a judge. Works out pretty nicely.

Re:yeah (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794495)

Under your scheme shouldnt the cops be charged with illegal activities as well?

Re:yeah (5, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794505)

"Fruit of the poisonous tree." The problem is that since police and prosecutors are hardly ever prosecuted for unreasonable search and seizure themselves, pretty much the only incentive for them to follow the Fourth Amendment is to see their evidence thrown out of court if it's illegally gathered. If they routinely went to jail for such violations, it might be a different story -- but they don't, and they never will, so this is what we're left with.

Re:yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38794535)

IF he was guilty, it is now the cops' fault because they fucked up. A week paid leave doesn't cut it if they'd still get a promotion for arrests they made with illigally obtained "evidence".

Re:yeah (1)

Ragun (1885816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794547)

Which would lead to police breaking the rules regularly with policies to dampen the blow of punishment, or reimburse officers on big cases.

Sucks that he got away with it, but this is the only way.

Re:yeah (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794567)

but just because he was illegally tracked doesn't mean he wasn't still guilty. The police should be disciplined, the criminal shouldn't be let off the hook.

Yea. Let cops do whatever and if they violate the Constitution slap them on the wrist. Hell, who needs extradition; just do snatch and grab.

Re:yeah (2)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794591)

Nope. Innocent until proven guilty. If a society deems itself worthy enough take away liberty. The least it can do up uphold its own rules. By not doing so, people who are obviously guilty can and will go free. Those people may kill and murder again, maybe someone I love. GET IT RIGHT FIRST TIME. I pay a lot of tax into the system for that money I want a guilt and innocent verdicts which can trusted.

Re:yeah (1)

Millennium (2451) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794605)

So give him a new trial, with the illegally obtained evidence excluded.

Re:yeah (3)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794817)

So give him a new trial, with the illegally obtained evidence excluded.

Double jeopardy applies, I expect.

And if it doesn't, it should.

Re:yeah (2)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#38795081)

Sorry, but that dog won't hunt, [wikipedia.org] monseigneur.

Re:yeah (5, Insightful)

Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794671)

just because he was illegally tracked doesn't mean he wasn't still guilty. The police should be disciplined, the criminal shouldn't be let off the hook

Cops under your system: That dirty SOB, I know he's guilty of (horrific crime.) It'll be worth going on unpaid suspension for a month just to beat a confession out of him.

Esp. since there will probably be some charitable giving to the cop during his discipline from other members of the force.

Score one for Bad Guys, er I mean Civil Liberties (1)

realsilly (186931) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794269)

Seriously, this is a good thing. I have no problem if a warrants are involved. They should be, otherwise, law enforcement feels the right to slap one of those devices on anyone's vehicle for any old reason. There is a reason for warrants, it helps keeps things fair and legal. If the bad guys are really showing their hands, then obtaining a warrant for a GPS should be a no brain-er. And until then, law enforcement can do the good old stakeout for a few days until all the legal paperwork is signed and buttoned up correctly.

Re:Score one for Bad Guys, er I mean Civil Liberti (1)

satsuke (263225) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794707)

Honestly, if law enforcement has, and can demonstrate, probable cause, they'll have no problem getting a warrant very quickly.

I've read of officers getting warrants during the duration of a traffic stop in a couple of rural counties around my location in the middle of the night.

All that this ruling will do is cut back on "hunches" and make sure an officer can get at least one other person agrees that there is something worth investigating and/or worth tracking.

Thanks Goodness! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38794271)

Perhaps they're finally realizing the technologies used to enable us can also be used to enslave us.

Re:Thanks Goodness! (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794675)

Let's hope this is construed to also apply to your cell phone GPS track that is collected by some carriers. Much of the data carriers collect and store can be obtained by police just by asking on letterhead.

5-4 decision (-1, Troll)

milbournosphere (1273186) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794283)

The fact that this was a 5-4 decision is scary. How they didn't unanimously rule planting a GPS device on a private citizen's car without a warrant as unconstitutional is beyond me.

Re:5-4 decision (1)

DeathFromSomewhere (940915) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794401)

You didn't even read the first sentence of the article. Good job skilltron.

Re:5-4 decision huh? (5, Informative)

schwit1 (797399) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794407)

It was 9-0.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Thomas, and Sotomayor, JJ., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed a concurring opinion. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ., joined.

Re:5-4 decision (1)

da_foz (751028) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794433)

The very first line in the story:

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that law enforcement authorities need a probable-cause warrant from a judge to affix a GPS device to a vehicle and monitor its every move.

.

Re:5-4 decision (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794437)

Can you not read? It was unanimous.

Re:5-4 decision (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38794441)

troll.

from the article: "The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that law enforcement authorities need a probable-cause warrant from a judge to affix a GPS device to a vehicle and monitor its every move."

Re:5-4 decision (0)

H3lldr0p (40304) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794467)

No it wasn't. It was 9-0 decision. There were two opinions handed down which was the split --- Alito wrote the second and was joined by Ginsberg, Beyer, and Kagan. Alito wanted to go further and say that the length of time required a second, separate warrant to cover it.

See Wired's [wired.com] coverage for more details.

Re:5-4 decision (2)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794971)

The decision was the same, the reasoning by which some members arrived at the decision was different. As I see it, that makes it unanimous.

Re:5-4 decision (1)

milbournosphere (1273186) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794491)

Okay, okay, reading comprehension fail. Never mind my idiocy. They were divided as to why. Feel free to mod my comment into oblivion.

Re:5-4 decision (1)

pseudofrog (570061) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794523)

You're misreading it. The court ruled unanimously that the defendant's rights were violated.

The majority opinion stated that planting a GPS device is a search, and therefore requires a warrant, full-stop. The minority opinion stated that, because of the month-long surveillance, a warrant would be necessary in this particular case. The minority opinion did not argue which circumstances would or would not require a warrant.

Re:5-4 decision (1)

P-niiice (1703362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794541)

Scalia voted wrong and changed his vote. Clarence Thomas voted the same as Scalia(as he always does), but fell asleep(as he always does) and wasn't able to correct his vote.

Re:5-4 decision (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38794585)

But they did vote unanimously...

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that law enforcement authorities need a probable-cause warrant from a judge to affix a GPS device to a vehicle and monitor its every move.

Re:5-4 decision (1)

residieu (577863) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794861)

It was a unanimous decision that in this case a warrant was necessary. 4 other the justices, though, chose not to join the opinion that said attaching GPS to a private car should always require a warrant. They only specified that in a case like this where the tracking went on for a month, a warrant was necessary.

Re:5-4 decision (2)

Lashat (1041424) | more than 2 years ago | (#38795035)

Ouch. Your post has got to sting. 5-4 split was over the "rationale" behind the 9-0 decision.

Unanimous (2)

stevegee58 (1179505) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794291)

What amazed me was it was a unanimous decision.

Left to rule on ... (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794295)

Your iPhone, smart phone, auto GPSr, or even hand-held GPSr track being used against you.

Funny how they don't bundle both decisions together, though clearly the attachment of a device to an unwitting suspect's vehicle is a more active role than seizing records your vehicle or device have been recording for you.

Best be careful about Geocaching near marijauna farms (even if you are unwittingly near one in a state or federal park!)

Re:Left to rule on ... (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794539)

If im around a marijuana farm, law enforcement is the least of my worries. Its the farmers that are the true concern.

Re:Left to rule on ... (1)

Lashat (1041424) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794779)

Even if tagged by law enforcement at this location you would have your Geocaching alibi. Hmm..... Light-Bulb!

Re:Left to rule on ... (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 2 years ago | (#38795069)

I have a prescription so no alibi needed. I approve of your sig. No OSX in a VM just for funsies?

Re:Left to rule on ... (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794997)

To true. Our local cemeteries have a few people in them who failed to understand that.

Re:Left to rule on ... (3, Informative)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794987)

Your GPS receiver can only be used against you if you are arrested and it is confiscated, at which point any history stored in the device may (depending on the warrant) be obtained and admitted as evidence.

They cannot be used to track you.

Could have gone farther... (1)

MaerD (954222) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794305)

It's a good ruling (and about damn time on this one), but it could have gone farther. As the minority opinion says, and I agree, what's to stop non-intrusive methods such as future UAV drones from being used without a warrant?

Re:Could have gone farther... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38794403)

What's stopping them is that the issue hasn't been brought before the court. The court can only rule on issues that are brought to them in trial.

Re:Could have gone farther... (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 2 years ago | (#38795001)

Sort of. They can make their ruling broader than the specific instance brought before them.

Re-elect Obama (1)

Tokolosh (1256448) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794349)

So that the SCOTUS will keep feeling the urge to keep the POTUS on a short leash.

Warrants are needed only by the government (1)

schwit1 (797399) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794359)

Outside of that ...

All the justices found the 4th amendment applied. (5, Informative)

sed quid in infernos (1167989) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794371)

A brief read of Justice Sotomayer's concurring opinion seems to characterize the differences in the justice's reasoning as follows:

1.) Scalia, Sotomayer, Roberts, Thomas, and Kennedy formed the majority in the opinion of the court, which relied on the fact that a trespass occured when the physical device was planted on the car. The majority did not look at any issues other than the trespass one because the trespass issue was sufficient to decide the case. Sotomayer describes it his way: "By contrast, the trespassory test applied in the majority’s opinion reflects an irreducible constitutional minimum: When the Government physically invadespersonal property to gather information, a search occurs. The reaffirmation of that principle suffices to decide this case."

2.) Alito, joined by Breyer, Kagan, and Ginsburg, focused more on the impact of obtaining the knowledge - that is, whether GPS tracking data, regardless of whether it's obtained via physical trespass or some other way, falls within the expectation of privacy protected by the fourth amendment. Alito would hold that trespass is irrelevant to 4th amendment law, and that only the expectation of privacy issue is relevant.

3.) Sotomayer (who joined the opinion of the Court), thinks that Alito's dismissal of the trespassory test would do harm to the constitutional protections, but emphasizes that, in other cases where no trespass occurs, the Court should also analyze expectation of privacy.

In sum, we have 5 justices who are willing to apply a trespassory analysis (which means physically attaching a device to a car is subject to the warrant and reasonableness requirements of the 4th amendment), 5 justices who think the expectation of privacy involved in one's movements should provide 4th amendment protection when long-term electronic tracking is used, regardless of whether trespass occurs, and at least 1 who thinks both apply.

It should be noted that, if I'm reading Sotomayer's concurring opinion correctly, the 4 in the majority other than Sotomayer should not be viewed as having rejected the application of the expectation of privacy test to electronic location tracking. Rather, they've emphasized that the expectation of privacy test is in addition to the trespassory test, and expressly declined to evaluate it because the trespassory test was conclusive.

A couple of other notes:

(1) The government did obtain a warrant in this case, but the placed the tracker on the car outside the time and physical location the warrant gave permission for. The Court did not consider the government's argument that the technical violation of the warrant's strictures rendered the search unreasonable, holding that the government waived those arguments. Therefore, we don't have any insight into how strictly the requirements of warrants will be applied.

(2) The Court did not address this, but it's not hard to imagine scenarios where the Court might allow tracking without a warrant. For example, if an officer witnesses a crime but cannot effect an arrest, the Court might allow an officer to plant a device without a warrant due to exigency, and thereafter apply for a warrant. Similarly, the Court might allow a device to be planted during the course of a high-speed chase without warrant, if the means to do so are invented. I want to emphasize this is total speculation on my part, but fourth amendment law goes far beyond "did a search occur?"

(3) Although there's no holding yet, there's very good reason to believe that obtaining GPS data from non-trespassory means, such as from OnStar or a cell phone, will also require a warrant.

Re:All the justices found the 4th amendment applie (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794589)

Police officer witnessing a crime means all bets are off when it comes to warrants. I have no problem with this.

Re:All the justices found the 4th amendment applie (4, Informative)

mindcandy (1252124) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794761)

re (2) : these exist. http://www.starchase.com/ [starchase.com]

Re:All the justices found the 4th amendment applie (1)

sed quid in infernos (1167989) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794945)

Thanks for linking that. I hadn't heard of it; I shouldn't be surprised someone thought of it already.

Re:All the justices found the 4th amendment applie (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794947)

Does your point number 1, above, mean they planted the tracker and only applied for a warrant after they found it yielded incriminating evidence?

Re:All the justices found the 4th amendment applie (1)

sed quid in infernos (1167989) | more than 2 years ago | (#38795073)

No, they applied for a warrant. The warrant specified 10 days to install the tracker, and that it be installed in DC. The tracker was installed on the 11th day, in MD. The decision says the tracker was on the car for 28 days; I don't know what the warrant said about how long they could track.

An Obvious case (2)

Ragun (1885816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794483)

An important thing to note that this case was obvious to the justices because a tracking device was placed on the suspects private property. This ruling is very limited in time constraints, and methodology. Can they use GPS tracking on things already present on the vehicle? No answer on that yet.

sanity (1)

satsuke (263225) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794521)

A rare moment of sanity from a court known for some otherwise insane rulings (Citizens United / corporate personhood among them).

New York Times article link (2)

Lashat (1041424) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794561)

I am glad this decision came down from the Supreme Court. I am also glad to find it here already on the news page at /. .

I am providing a link to the NY Times article on this same subject it is more informative IMHO.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/24/us/police-use-of-gps-is-ruled-unconstitutional.html [nytimes.com]

From the NY Times link above by Adam Liptak
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.

Further into the article are the juicy bits. I paste them here for you /.ers who are RTFA imparied.
Justice Sotomayor joined the majority opinion, agreeing that many questions could be left for another day “because the government’s physical instruction on Jones’s jeep supplies a narrower basis for decision.”

But she seemed to leave little doubt that she would have joined Justice Alito’s analysis had the issue he addressed been the exclusive one presented in the case.

“Physical intrusion is now unnecessary to many forms of surveillance,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. In the case of G.P.S. devices, she wrote, “I would ask whether people reasonably expect that their movements will be recorded and aggregated in a manner that enables the government to ascertain, more or less at will, their political and religious beliefs, sexual habits, and so on.”

She went on to suggest that “it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties.”

“People disclose the phone numbers that they dial or text to their cellular providers; the URLs that they visit and the e-mail addresses with which they correspond to their Internet service providers; and the books, groceries, and medications they purchase to online retailers,” she wrote. “I for one doubt that people would accept without complaint the warrantless disclosure to the government of a list of every Web site they had visited in the last week, or month, or year.”

Justice Alito listed other “new devices that permit the monitoring of a person’s movements” that fit uneasily with traditional Fourth Amendment privacy analysis.

“In some locales,” he wrote, “closed-circuit television video monitoring is becoming ubiquitous. On toll roads, automatic toll collection systems create a precise record of the movements of motorists who choose to make use of that convenience. Many motorists purchase cars that are equipped with devices that permit a central station to ascertain the car’s location at any time so that roadside assistance may be provided if needed and the car may be found if it is stolen.

“Perhaps most significant, cellphones and other wireless devices now permit wireless carriers to track and record the location of users— and as of June 2011, it has been reported, there were more than 322 million wireless devices in use in the United States.”

He's lucky... (4, Funny)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794577)

.. he wasn't trafficking in pirated movies, or the judge would have been merciless.

Not a complete victory (3, Informative)

necro81 (917438) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794599)

While the court did rule 9-0 that the tracking was too extensive and had to be thrown out, the court split 5-4 on the reasoning and scope of the ruling. The majority opinion held that the tracking was invalidated by the fact that police used the defendant's private property (his car), in violation of the 4th amendment. This largely sidesteps the much broader questions about stake: police use of GPS tracking in cellphones, camera networks backed by face/vehicle/license plate recogniztion software, etc. The minority opinion sought to invalidate the tracking on more broad grounds such as the duration (one month), continuous nature, expectation of privacy in the modern age, etc. But, being the minority opinion, it doesn't exactly have the same force behind it. Their opinion, however, is likely to form a blueprint for how these things can get argued going forward. It is certain that these issues will come up again and again in the Court.

More information and explanation of the ruling can be found at the NYTimes [nytimes.com] , wikipedia [wikipedia.org] , and the court's opinion text (PDF [supremecourt.gov] ).

Question (1)

Calos (2281322) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794607)

My initial reaction to this is that this is a very good thing.

But a serious question. Police now cannot track your car via GPS without a warrant. But is there anything preventing police from just following you? Is the location of your car, driving around in public places, reasonably considered private, personal information?

So what's the objection to GPS tracking, if it is no less invasive than other means of tracking can be? The only thing that seems to separate GPS tracking is its passive nature; that it could be done to many targets easily and the data stored for future use; that instead of finding a suspect to follow, we instead track data from everyone and retrospectively see if any of the data fits. This would not be possible if it required paying ~3 people to follow someone around all day and night.

Now, I'm firmly against the dystopian big brother future that technology enables... But it seems like a better line needs to be drawn, rather than "well, you can do it, but you can't do it with certain technology." While that may be effective in practice, in the short term, it seems like it's awfully prone to creep and workarounds.

In other words, this seems like a start, but the hard work is still to be done: trying to define the role and limitations of government, expectations of privacy, etc., in a world where many of your communications and your location at any given time can be monitored. Or am I being to short-sighted? Is this exactly how that does get formed, that it is set by the sum many rulings? In which case, are we being to passive about the government's apparent policy of trying anything and seeing what sticks?

Interesting break down (5, Informative)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794633)

There are two interesting facts about this ruling. First all nine Justices agreed that the use of the GPS without a warrant in this case was unconstitutional. However, 4 of the Justices felt that it might have been Constitutional if done for a shorter period of time. What is interesting about that is that the divide was not along the usual divide. The majority opinion was supported by Scalia (who wrote it), Roberts, Thomas, Kennedy (the "swing" vote) and Sotomayor (generally considered a "liberal" vote). While the minority opinion was written by Alito (generally considered a "conservative" vote) and joined by the rest of the Court's "liberals" (Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan).

Court HAS NOT ruled that warrant is required (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38794919)

From Volokh: [http://volokh.com/2012/01/23/what-jones-does-not-hold/]

What Jones Does Not Hold

Orin Kerr January 23, 2012 12:50 pm

A lot of the early press reports on United States v. Jones are reporting that the Supreme Court held that the government needs a warrant to install a GPS device. But that’s not correct, actually. The Court merely held that the installation of the GPS was a Fourth Amendment “search.” The Court declined to reach when the installation of the device is reasonable or unreasonable. As the opinion explains on page 12 of the slip opinion:

        The Government argues in the alternative that even if the attachment and use of the device was a search, it was reasonable—and thus lawful—under the Fourth Amendment because “officers had reasonable suspicion, and in-deed probable cause, to believe that [Jones] was a leader in a large-scale cocaine distribution conspiracy.” Brief for United States 50–51. We have no occasion to consider this argument. The Government did not raise it below, and the D. C. Circuit therefore did not address it. See 625 F. 3d, at 767 (Ginsburg, Tatel, and Griffith, JJ., concurring in denial of rehearing en banc). We consider the argument forfeited. See Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine, 537 U. S. 51, 56, n. 4 (2002).

So we actually don’t yet know if a warrant is required to install a GPS device; we just know that the installation of the device is a Fourth Amendment “search.”

Wow (0)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38794883)

Did both Roberts and ThomasScalia forget to show up that day? This ruling is completely at odds with their pro police state belief set.

founding fathers (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38794917)

Here's a link to the decision:
http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-1259.pdf

Note the following, which puts this ruling into perspective:

At bottom, the Court must “assur[e] preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted.”

This doesn't matter. (1)

kriston (7886) | more than 2 years ago | (#38795091)

This ruling doesn't really matter. Most of us carry an even more accurate tracking device on our person every day, and this device is used exponentially more often than these silly GPS trackers.

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