Supreme Court says feds cannot install GPS without warrant

In a ruling with wide implications for the privacy of drivers, the Supreme Court ruled that federal agents may not install a GPS in a vehicle without a warrant.

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that it is illegal for law enforcement agencies to install global positioning systems in vehicles without securing a warrant. The unanimous decision contradicted the Justice Department, which argued that it was within its rights to attach a GPS to a car belonging to the wife of Antoine Jones, a suspected drug dealer serving a life sentence.

The concept seems a bit like wiretapping, but for cars. The central issue is whether the government can invade private property - a person's car - without a warrant.

The agents involved in the case had in fact obtained a warrant, but they only installed the GPS after the 10-day deadline for the warrant had expired. They then tracked the vehicle for four weeks and accumulated more than 2,000 pages of information.

Though a federal district judge initially agreed with the Justice Department, arguing that a person driving on public streets had no reasonable expectation of privacy, the ruling was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court then ruled that the practice violated the Fourth Amendment. “The government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information,” said Justice Antonin Scalia.

The ruling may play a role in assessing privacy rights of drivers in the future. During oral arguments in November, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that if police could freely install GPS systems in cars, it would be "an easy way to pick someone up for speeding when you suspect something far worse but have no probable cause."

Justice Stephen Breyer added that, were the Justice Department to have its way, "then there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States."

Photo: Flickr/Ines Saraiva

via [Carscoop, Detroit News]

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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