In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that law enforcement agencies cannot attach a global positioning system device to a vehicle without obtaining a warrant first.
The court’s ruling dismissed the Justice Department’s claim that it did not need to have permission to tack on a GPS to a Jeep Grand Cherokee owned by the wife of Antoine Jones, a Washington, D.C., nightclub owner and suspected drug dealer who has been sentenced to life.
Government agents had indeed obtained a warrant, but installed the device after the 10-day deadline had expired. During the four-week period that they tracked the vehicle, they collected over 2,000 pages of data – and even had to secretly replace the GPS battery when it was parked in Maryland.
A federal district judge initially agreed with the Justice Department, saying that “a person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals then overturned the first ruling. Despite the government’s argument that attaching a tracking device was essentially the same as having undercover agents or police officers physically track the vehicle, the Supreme Court ruled that such an action constituted a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
All eight members of the court were of the same opinion. “The government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information”, though other judges offered different explanations,” said Justice Antonin Scalia.
According to legal experts, the ruling sets a precedent and is expected to raise many questions in the future about the status of drivers and their vehicles.
Story References: Detnews