Back in January of this year, the US Supreme Court ruled that a warrant is constitutionally required before attaching a GPS tracking device to a suspect’s vehicle. In the historic case, US v. Jones, the evidence gathered from a GPS tracking device, placed on Antoine Jones’ vehicle by federal agents was deemed unusable. Despite the ruling from the highest court in the land, the Obama Administration is arguing that GPS tracking does not require a warrant. “A warrant is not needed for a GPS search, as the [Supreme] Court … did not resolve that question.” said a spokesperson from the US Justice Department.
However, the department was also quoted in the Wall Street Journal, stating that they’ve “advised agents and prosecutors going forward to take the most prudent steps and obtain a warrant for new or ongoing investigations,” as a precaution. At the heart of this issue is the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Law enforcement agents and representatives have claimed that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy on public roads, and that GPS tracking is merely a “limited intrusion”. Furthermore, the US government claims that requiring a warrant would severely limit their ability to protect citizens from internal and external threats. In a statement submitted to the Ninth Circuit appeals court, the Obama Administrations claims that “requiring a warrant and probable cause would seriously impede the government’s ability to investigate drug trafficking, terrorism and other crimes.”
Fortunately, the ACLU and other civil rights groups are working to preserve the rights of US citizens. In an ongoing case, attorneys from the ACLU filed a brief with the Ninth Circuit, stating, “The warrant requirement is especially important here given the extraordinary intrusiveness of modern-day electronic surveillance. Without a warrant requirement, the low cost of GPS tracking and data storage would permit the police to continuously track every driver.”