Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Supreme Court to ponder warrantless GPS tracking

Washington – In the 2004 narcotics investigation, the case was so new and the information so spotty that narcotics agents chose not to file an affidavit of probable cause with a magistrate.

They obtained no search warrant.

After 28 days of silently tracking drug kingpin Antoine Jones's every move, Washington, D.C., Metro Police arrested him with a massive amount of cocaine – 97 kilos.

A panel of federal appeals judges from both ends of the political spectrum threw the conviction out because the agents did not fully observe the guarantee of the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable search and seizure.

Today the Supreme Court will hear the arguments in the case and determine if it's necessary to obtain a warrant when tracking a suspect with GPS.

Proponents of the practice say the observation is no different than a public surveillance, in which the suspect can have no reasonable expectation of privacy. The government's argument is that the Fourth Amendment protects from search only private areas such as a home, the interior of a vehicle, or a locked office desk.

Opponents of the notion hold that such an invasion of privacy can only legally be supported by an affidavit of probable cause with which investigators must obtain a warrant of search.

Mr. Jones's lawyer, Walter Dellinger, said, "It's critical to understand that this case is not about whether law enforcement can use GPS devices. It's about whether they should get a warrant...

"If the Supreme Court gave a green light, any officer can install any GPS device for any reason on anybody's car, even if the officer thinks it would be interesting to know where Supreme Court justices go at night when they leave the courthouse. No one would be immune from having a GPS device installed on their vehicles."

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