The Obama administration is urging the Supreme Court to allow the government, without a court warrant, to affix GPS devices on suspects’ vehicles to track their every move.
The Justice Department, saying “a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements (.pdf) from one place to another,” is demanding the justices undo a lower court decision that reversed the conviction and life sentence of a cocaine dealer whose vehicle was tracked via GPS for a month without a court warrant.
The petition, if accepted by the justices, arguably would make it the biggest Fourth Amendment case in a decade — one weighing the collision of privacy, technology and the Constitution.
In 2001, the justices said thermal-imaging devices used to detect marijuana-growing operations inside a house amounted to a search requiring a court warrant. The justices are likely to accept the government’s petition to clear conflicting lower-court rulings on when warrants are required for GPS tracking.
The administration, in its petition to the justices, said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was “wrong” in August when it reversed the drug dealer’s conviction, which was based on warrants to search and find drugs in the locations where defendant Antoine Jones had traveled. That lower court declined to rehear the case in September, so the government appealed to the high court Friday.
The government told the justices that GPS devices have become a common tool in crime fighting. An officer shooting a dart can affix them to moving vehicles, and recently, a student in California found a tracking device attached to the underside of his car, which the FBI later demanded back.
Three other circuit courts of appeal have already said the authorities do not need a warrant for GPS vehicle tracking.
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