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Supreme Court Rules Warrant Needed for GPS Tracking

January 23, 2012  - By
Image: GPS World

GPS trackers are a form of search, and to use them police must have a search warrant, according to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling today. The high court issued a unanimous ruling that a search warrant is required before police slap a GPS tracker on a criminal suspect’s vehicle to monitor the suspect’s movements, reports the Associated Press.

The decision was a defeat for the government and police agencies that increasingly rely on GPS surveillance. A GPS device installed by police on Washington, D.C., nightclub owner Antoine Jones’ Jeep helped them link him to a suburban house used to stash money and drugs. He was sentenced to life in prison before the appeals court overturned the conviction.

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia said that the government’s installation of a GPS device, and its use to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search. The court ruled that GPS monitoring on the Jeep violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Justice Samuel Alito said the court should address how expectations of privacy affect whether warrants are required for remote surveillance using electronic methods that do not require the police to install equipment, such as GPS tracking of mobile telephones, reports AP. “If long-term monitoring can be accomplished without committing a technical trespass — suppose for example, that the federal government required or persuaded auto manufacturers to include a GPS tracking device in every car — the court’s theory would provide no protection,” Alito said.

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