US Supreme Court: Police need warrants to use GPS

You no longer have to worry about police officers tracking you via a hidden GPS transmitter attached to your vehicle, at least not without probable cause. Wired is reporting that the United States Supreme Court has ruled that doing so violates the 4th amendment of the constitution that protects citizens from "illegal search and seizure."

The specific case being argued centered around an alleged drug dealer from the District of Columbia. Police monitored his vehicle for nearly a month and used this data to help get a conviction back in 2008. His lawyers argued that most of the information presented in court was illegally obtained and today the Supreme Court agreed with that decision.

The Obama administration argued that using these methods was not a violation and actually contended that they could put a GPS tracker on the vehicle of every Supreme Court member without a warrant. What's even more scary is that the administration told the court that these devices are used to track thousands of people a year.

Although the question of whether law enforcement can affix a tracking device to a vehicle has been answered, the court did not make any decisions on whether pre-existing GPS devices, such as those provided by services like OnStar, require the same procedures to use.

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15 Comments

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4th amendment was violated when Megaupload was taken down, feds are cowards instead on focusing on drug runners they focus on piracy.

thommcg said,
Now they can only check your Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, Google+... to find out where you are

Or with probable cause, walk a warrant to a Judge to get signed, takes up about an hour's time to get it done.

xendrome said,

Or with probable cause, walk a warrant to a Judge to get signed, takes up about an hour's time to get it done.

darn that probable cause getting in the way!

neufuse said,

darn that probable cause getting in the way!


Yup, probably... LOL Nice to see the Supreme Court actually caring about our rights to any positive extent.

The Obama administration argued that using these methods was not a violation and actually contended that they could put a GPS tracker on the vehicle of every Supreme Court member without a warrant.

Did they really present this as an argument? If so, no wonder it was struck down.

Its not exactly clear why the 4th amendment is violated, as the police wouldn't be searching for or seizing anything. I would think that the violation would have more to do with the fact that they are attaching something to your private property without your permission. Similar to how a vandal attaches spray paint to something they are vandalizing or something along those lines...

As far as tracking someone's location, so long as they are on public land/roads there is nothing illegal about following someone. I can follow someone around so long as I don't harass them. It seems like the supreme court's ruling might even make following someone around illegal.

It is a violation because the act of tracking your vehicle's movements constitutes a search of your property. And, yes, their argument against it also related to the trespassing aspect of attaching the tracker. Just as police cannot enter your home without a warrant unless you give them permission, they also don't have a right to attach things to your property without permission or a warrant.

Shadrack said,
Did they really present this as an argument? If so, no wonder it was struck down.

Reductio ad absurdum is extremely common in the Supreme Court.

Basically, they need to take the extreme extents of their decision out fully. A judge probably asked explicitly if their argument meant they could tag one of them. They had to answer either yes or no. And they'd have to explain why if they answered no.

Seems like a good decision.

What's even more scary is that the administration told the court that these devices are used to track thousands of people a year.
It is possible, however, that it would still be about the same numbers with warrants.

Kirkburn said,
Seems like a good decision.

It is possible, however, that it would still be about the same numbers with warrants.

That may be true... then a warrant should be obtained. Otherwise the police/fbi/etc are running an illegal process to catch someone running an illegal process. Seems logically obvious.