Court rejects warrantless GPS tracking

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia Circuit today firmly rejected government claims that federal
agents have an unfettered right to install Global Positioning System
(GPS) location-tracking devices on anyone’s car without a search
warrant.

via EFF: Court Rejects Warrantless GPS Tracking | Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF-ACLU Arguments Against Always-On Surveillance Win The Day

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia Circuit today firmly rejected government claims that federal
agents have an unfettered right to install Global Positioning System
(GPS) location-tracking devices on anyone’s car without a search
warrant.

In United States v. Maynard, FBI agents planted a GPS device on a car
while it was on private property and then used it to track the position
of the automobile every ten seconds for a full month, all without
securing a search warrant. In an amicus brief filed in the case, EFF and
the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital argued that unsupervised use of such
tactics would open the door for police to abuse their power and
continuously track anyone’s physical location for any reason, without
ever having to go to a judge to prove the surveillance is justified.

The court agreed that such round-the-clock surveillance required a
search warrant based on probable cause. The court expressly rejected the
government’s argument that such extended, 24-hours-per-day surveillance
without warrants was constitutional based on previous rulings about
limited, point-to-point surveillance of public activities using
radio-based tracking beepers. Recognizing that the Supreme Court had
never considered location tracking of such length and scope, the court
noted: “When it comes to privacy…the whole may be more revealing than
its parts.”

The court continued: “It is one thing for a passerby to observe or
even to follow someone during a single journey as he goes to the market
or returns home from work. It is another thing entirely for that
stranger to pick up the scent again the next day and the day after that,
week in and week out, dogging his prey until he has identified all the
places, people, amusements, and chores that make up that person’s
hitherto private routine.”

“The court correctly recognized the important differences between
limited surveillance of public activities possible through visual
surveillance or traditional ‘bumper beepers,’ and the sort of extended,
invasive, pervasive, always-on tracking that GPS devices allow,” said
EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. “This same logic applies
in cases of cell phone tracking, and we hope that this decision will be
followed by courts that are currently grappling with the question of
whether the government must obtain a warrant before using your cell
phone as a tracking device.”

“GPS tracking enables the police to know when you visit your doctor,
your lawyer, your church, or your lover,” said Arthur Spitzer, Legal
Director of the ACLU-NCA. “And if many people are tracked, GPS data will
show when and where they cross paths. Judicial supervision of this
powerful technology is essential if we are to preserve individual
liberty. Today’s decision helps brings the Fourth Amendment into the
21st Century.”

Attorneys Daniel Prywes and Kip Wainscott of Bryan Cave LLP also
volunteered their services to assist in preparing the EFF-ACLU brief.

For the full opinion:

http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/US_v_Jones/maynard_decision.pdf

For more information on the case, formerly known as U.S. v. Jones:

http://www.eff.org/cases/us-v-jones

Contacts:

Kevin Bankston

Senior Staff Attorney

Electronic Frontier Foundation

[email protected]

Cindy Cohn

Legal Director

Electronic Frontier Foundation

[email protected]

Related Issues: Locational PrivacyPrivacy

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Related Cases: US v Jones