WASHINGTON DC (GCN) — A unanimous Supreme Court has ruled that installing a Global Positioning System tracking device on a suspect’s car constitutes a search and requires a warrant, applying an 18th century guarantee against unreasonable searches to a 21st century technology.
The decision upholds the reversal of Washington nightclub owner Antoine Jones’ conviction on federal drug trafficking charges obtained in the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court with the use of data from a GPS tracking device.
Although government had argued in the Jones case that using the device was not significantly different from visually tracking the suspect’s movements in public, the justices ruled that that installing a device to collect data from the satellite-based GPS was a search rather than surveillance.
The tracking device sent more than 2,000 pages of location data by cell phone to a government computer over a four-week period in 2005.
“The government’s attachment of the GPS device to the vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment,” the court ruled in a decision released Jan. 23, 2012.
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WASHINGTON (TPM)Oct. 8, 2010 — An Egyptian-American college student who says he has never done anything that should attract the interest of federal law enforcement officials filed a lawsuit against the FBI for secretly putting a GPS tracking device on his car.
Yasir Afifi, 20, says a mechanic doing an oil change on his car discovered the device stuck with magnets between his right rear wheel and exhaust. They were not sure what it was, but Afifi had the mechanic remove it and a friend posted photos of it online to see whether anyone could identify it.
Two days later, Afifi says, agents wearing bullet-proof vests pulled him over as he drove away from his apartment in San Jose, California, and demanded their property back. Afifi’s lawsuit, filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, claims the FBI violated his civil rights by putting the device on his car without a warrant.
The federal appeals court in the Washington circuit where Afifi’s case was filed ruled that the collection of GPS data amounts to a government “search” that required a warrant. The Obama administration asked the court to change its ruling, calling the decision “vague and unworkable” and arguing that investigators will lose access to a tool they now use “with great frequency.”