Supreme Court

Supreme Court rules against GPS trackers; warrant now required

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: GPS trackers, Supreme Court, illegal search

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(NaturalNews) Most of us agree that cops have a tough job. They deal with bad people who do bad things to good people, and were it not for them, civil society in America as we know it would cease to exist. Still, there comes a time when even police officers, in the course of trying to protect us, bend the rules too much in their zealous pursuit of suspected criminals.

All nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court made just such a determination in a recent ruling, finding that police in the nation's capital violated the Constitution when they attached a Global Positioning System device to the vehicle of a suspect without a court-issued warrant.

On the surface, it all seems rather unfair for society, since the suspect cops were monitoring was an alleged drug dealer, Antoine Jones -- a Washington, D.C.-area nightclub owner -- who was eventually caught with about 100 kilograms of cocaine and a million dollars in his possession.

But the end didn't justify the means, the high court ruled, because in placing a GPS device on Jones' car to track his movements for several weeks, cops violated his Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia, perhaps the high court's most ardent constitutionalist, emphasized that attaching the unauthorized tracking device amounted to a breach of the Constitution's 4th Amendment, which says, "[T]he 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."

Noting the amendment's "close connection to property," Scalia wrote that even a minor trespass, if done in "an attempt to find something or to obtain information, "amounted to a "search," and therefore must be sanctioned with a warrant.

He went onto observe that the Fourth Amendment, as envisioned by the Founders in the 18th century to protect "persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," would, in today's world, apply to automobiles.

"The Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information. We have no doubt that such a physical intrusion would have been considered a 'search' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when it was adopted," he wrote in a decision enjoined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor.

In arguing on behalf of the government, Justice Department lawyers said FBI agents routinely utilized GPS tracking devices in thousands of investigations each year, the Wall Street Journal reported. In an alarming position, the government argued that attaching an electronic device "to a car's undercarriage was too trivial a violation of property rights to matter, and that no one who drove in public streets could expect his movements to go unmonitored," the paper said.

The government went on to argue that police should be free to use the tactic at their own discretion and for any reason without having to obtain a warrant and without having to show probable cause.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court didn't see it that way. But in an indirect way, the government makes the argument about why it is important for police - and federal agents - to observe the Constitution and practice what it preaches, because there is always someone who wants to skirt the law and do things without following proper procedures.Especially in the name of "doing good."

Sources for this article include:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203806504577178811800873358.html
http://www.law.cornell.edu/anncon/html/amdt4frag1_user.html

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