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SCOTUS limits police use of GPS devices

 
 
Reply Mon 23 Jan, 2012 02:09 pm
(Updates with comments from justices starting in third paragraph.)

Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court put new limits on the power of police to track criminal suspects’ cars using GPS signals, ruling for the first time on the constitutional implications of the increasingly common devices.

Today’s decision addresses the unprecedented power technology is giving police to peer into Americans’ day-to-day activities.

The justices unanimously overturned the drug conviction of Antoine Jones, while splintering in their reasoning. Writing for the five-justice majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said police officers “encroached on a protected area” when they attached a global-positioning system device to Jones’ car without a valid warrant.

Other justices used more sweeping reasoning, saying police might violate the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches even when they obtain GPS signals without having to attach a device to a car. With vehicles increasingly coming pre-equipped with GPS technology, officers might not need to attach an additional device in many future cases.

“Awareness that the government may be watching chills associational and expressive freedoms,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a concurring opinion. “And the government’s unrestrained power to assemble data that reveal private aspects of identity is susceptible to abuse.”

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-01-23/police-use-of-gps-devices-limited-by-u-s-supreme-court.html

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Type: Discussion • Score: 6 • Views: 991 • Replies: 7
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Lustig Andrei
 
  1  
Reply Mon 23 Jan, 2012 05:41 pm
@Lustig Andrei,
Here's the Wall Street Journal take on it.

http://www.knottingley.org/images/benjamin_thompson.jpg
Lustig Andrei
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 Jan, 2012 08:45 pm
@Lustig Andrei,
Nobody finds this worth cheering about? It's an absolute reversal of what we've come to expect from this right-wing Supreme Court which foisted Dubya on us and limited our Bill of Rights freedoms in several other ways. I think it's a breath of fresh air.
roger
 
  2  
Reply Tue 24 Jan, 2012 10:08 pm
@Lustig Andrei,
I find it somewhat reassuring.
Lustig Andrei
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 Jan, 2012 10:31 pm
@roger,
Good for you, roger. I was kind of surprised when this thread got no comments at all for a couple of days. Everything I've heard and read, the decision came as a surprise to most of the fairly jaded press corps.
0 Replies
 
hawkeye10
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 Jan, 2012 10:42 pm
@Lustig Andrei,
So SCOTUS can read the Constitution and support the liberty of the people to be free from abuse from the government....though rarely. Good to know.
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Mar, 2012 10:24 am
@hawkeye10,
FBI Still Struggling With Supreme Court's GPS Ruling
by Carrie Johnson - NPR Morning Edition
March 21, 2012

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court said police had overstepped their legal authority by planting a GPS tracker on the car of a suspected drug dealer without getting a search warrant. It seemed like another instance in a long line of cases that tests the balance between personal privacy and the needs of law enforcement.

But the decision in U.S. v. Jones set off alarm bells inside the FBI, where officials are trying to figure out whether they need to change the way they do business.

Before the Supreme Court ruling in late January, the FBI had about 3,000 GPS tracking devices in the field.

Just in case, government lawyers scrambled to get search warrants for weeks before the decision, working to convince judges they had probable cause to believe crimes were taking place.

But after the ruling, FBI officials tell NPR, agents still had to turn off 250 devices that they couldn't turn back on.

FBI director Robert Mueller III addressed the issue this month at a House Appropriations Committee hearing. He said the ruling will change the way agents work.

"It will inhibit our ability to use this in a number of surveillances where it has been tremendously beneficial," Mueller said. "We have a number of people in the United States whom we could not indict, there is not probable cause to indict them or to arrest them who present a threat of terrorism. ... [They] may be up on the Internet, may have purchased a gun, but have taken no particular steps to take a terrorist act."

Before the high court decision, the FBI would have deployed electronic trackers to monitor those people. Now, teams of six or eight agents have to watch them, taxing the agency's resources.

4th Amendment In Computer Age

Andrew Weissmann is the top lawyer at the FBI. He says the Supreme Court made a distinction about the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, ruling that computers that follow suspects are much more intrusive than people doing the same thing.

"The court essentially is saying that you have an expectation of privacy even though if it was done by humans there would be no violation," Weissmann says. "But because it's done by machines, it is."

In the Supreme Court case, FBI agents investigating a cocaine trafficking ring secretly put a GPS tracker on a Jeep belonging to Washington, D.C., nightclub owner Antoine Jones. They kept it there for weeks, without getting approval from a judge.

"In the Jones case, the Supreme Court held that reasonable people do not expect the government to track their location by attaching a GPS device to the bottom of the car for, in that case, 28 days," says Catherine Crump of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The full implications of the decision are still coming into focus.

A concurring opinion by Justice Samuel Alito said that a month was too long to track a suspect by GPS without a warrant, but two days would probably be fine. That leaves a big gap for law enforcement to figure out on its own.

Weissmann says FBI agents in the field need clear rules. So, for now, he's telling agents "when in doubt, to obtain a warrant to protect your investigation."

But he says that's not always possible.

"And the problem with that is that a search warrant requires probable cause to be shown and many of these techniques are things that you use in order to establish probable cause," Weissmann says. "If you require probable cause for every technique, then you are making it very very hard for law enforcement."

Beyond GPS Devices

Government lawyers say the Supreme Court decision reaches well beyond electronic trackers.

"That decision is reverberating very quickly into areas that I'm sure lots of you care about: national security, cyber security, privacy, more generally," said Solicitor General Don Verrilli at a recent Georgetown University Law Center conference.

The Justice Department is predicting new fights over cars that come with GPS already installed, and cameras the FBI sticks on poles to catch drug dealers and speeders.

Then there's the big enchilada: cell phone data.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear a case this year about whether the government can get access to cell phone location data without a warrant.

You might be surprised to know it but every eight seconds or so, your cell phone can transmit information to a local cell tower signaling where you are.

Crump, of the ACLU, says that's a lot more intrusive than putting a tracker on someone's car.

"After all, a cell phone is something you carry with you wherever you go," Crump says. "And we don't think the government should be accessing that type of information without a really good reason, which they can demonstrate by getting a warrant from a judge."

As for Antoine Jones, whose case made Supreme Court history, prosecutors say they'll try him again — maybe using some of the location data from his cell phone.
0 Replies
 
bulldogcoma
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Mar, 2012 11:24 pm
@Lustig Andrei,
Its absolutely reassuring to hear that at least one branch of the government has a little bit of sense in upholding our constitutional rights. Truly, the US government is allowing its lower level subordinates far too much power, and the fact that someone within the system sees this is great. Hopefully they repeal the law that will allow local law enforcement agencies to put drones with cameras into the skies, for the prospect is truly chilling in relation to the slow installation of an empirical totalitarian power...
0 Replies
 
 

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