Tags: gps | tracking | search | warrant

Government Prosecutors Argue for GPS Tracking

Friday, 01 Jun 2012 10:56 AM

Prosecutors with the U.S. Justice Department argued Thursday that the government is permitted to place Global Positioning System tracking devices on vehicles without the prior receipt of a search warrant, an argument that seems to contravene a January Supreme Court ruling that the installation of a GPS device without a warrant is a violation of the U.S. constitution’s prohibition of “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, Government prosecutors arguing their case before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals “relied on the fact that the high court didn’t specifically state that a search warrant would be required in other situations.”

In U.S. v. Jones, the court’s majority ruled that warrantless GPS tracking device installation constituted a trespass onto an individual’s property. But the high court did not adjudicate another government argument, which held that GPS tracking is a reasonable search that could be accomplished by other means — physically following a suspect’s car, for example — and therefore did not require a warrant.
If the distinction strikes you as a tenuous one, you are not alone. One legal scholar described the government’s argument as a violation of “the spirit, if not the letter, of the Jones decision.”

Other legal analysts, however, have identified several situations in which a search may be conducted without a warrant, including searches at border crossings and in public schools, and speculated that the government could credibly present GPS tracking as another reasonable exception to the search-warrant requirement.

In its argument to the Ninth Circuit, the government argued that “requiring a warrant and probable cause would seriously impede the government’s ability to investigate drug trafficking, terrorism, and other crimes.”

To some, that’s a risk worth taking. In an amicus brief filed at the Ninth Circuit, the American Civil Liberties Union warned, “Without a warrant requirement, the low cost of GPS tracking and data storage would permit the police to continuously track every driver.”

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