Court Strikes Down Warrantless GPS Tracking

The court unanimously ruled that police officers who attached a GPS tracking device to a car without a warrant acted unconstitutionally. The case may set precedent for digital privacy.

What's the Latest Development?


In a unanimous decision that may set precedent for future digital privacy cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that police officers who attached a GPS tracking device to car without a warrant acted unconstitutionally. Originally, police officers had obtained a warrant for the tracking device, but placed it on the car after the document had expired. The defendant had been sentenced to a life in prison after police tracked him to a house containing $850,000 in cash, 97 kilograms of cocaine, and 1 kilogram of cocaine base.

What's the Big Idea?

While the decision was unanimous, three different justifications were given. The writer of the majority opinion and the court's most conservative member, Antonin Scalia, said placing the GPS device amounted to a physical search, leaving aside the question of the warrant. This leaves open the possibility of warrantless searchers of cellphone data, for example, which can be accessed remotely. President Obama's appointee, Justice Sotomayor, challenged that assumption saying current 4th Amendment law is ill-suited to the digital age.

Photo credit: shutterstock.com

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