GPS Tracking: Supreme Court Debates Privacy Limits On Police
WASHINGTON — The justices appear poised to go big or go home when it comes to protecting privacy rights against digital intrusion.
Antoine Jones, a nightclub owner in Washington, D.C., is challenging his conviction for drug trafficking, asserting that the police violated his Fourth Amendment rights when, without a valid warrant or his consent, officers placed a GPS device on his car to track his movements on public streets. In taking United States v. Jones, the Supreme Court signaled its interest in seriously revisiting — and , after almost three decades — the question of whether advances in technology alter an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy.
During oral argument Tuesday morning, Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Michael Dreeben argued that the GPS-assisted, 24-hour surveillance of Jones by the police over the course of 28 days was no different than the rudimentary tracking by beeper that the Court blessed in a 1983 decision.
“That was 30 years ago,” said Chief Justice John Roberts, who was the first of nearly all his colleagues to express deep doubts about the government’s argument. Advances in technology have allowed police to go from actively listening to a beeper as a helicopter follows the suspect’s car from above to being able “to just sit back in the station and push a button whenever they want to find out where the car is,” the chief stated. “That seems to me dramatically different.”