U.S. government to fight for warrantless GPS tracking

The Obama Administration heads to court to argue its case, saying authorities shouldn't be required to obtain warrants to attach GPS devices to cars.

Declan McCullagh

The Obama Administration is headed to court today to argue that warrantless GPS tracking is just fine.

The administration will present its arguments before a federal appeals court today, despite the U.S. Supreme Court last year ruling that a warrant was needed to attach a GPS device to a suspected criminal's vehicle. According to Wired, which first reported on the story, the government believes that the high court's ruling does not account for all scenarios, and wants to see where its ruling should and shouldn't be held up.

The Supreme Court's ruling last year was not exhaustive, the government argues. And in many cases, exemptions exist in which a judge would not need to sign a warrant to monitor someone, including issues at the border and with people on probation and students, according to Wired.

The Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision last year that the Fourth Amendment protection of "persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" would be violated if law enforcement agencies were allowed to attach a GPS device to a suspect's vehicle without obtaining a warrant. The decision involved a case in which District of Columbia police placed a GPS tracking device on the car of suspected cocaine dealer Antoine Jones. Following a conviction, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2010 threw it out, saying a warrant was required to track Jones and fellow defendant Lawrence Maynard.

For the government, warrantless GPS tracking could prove to be an important law-enforcement tool, its attorneys have argued. In papers filed with the court, the government has said that because of the high court's ruling, "law enforcement officers could not use GPS devices to gather information to establish probable cause, which is often the most productive use of such devices."

 

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