January 23, 2012
WASHINGTON, D.C.—In a unanimous ruling in United States v. Jones, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that police must get a search warrant before using GPS technology to track criminal suspects. Insisting that individuals have a reasonable expectation that they will not be subject to constant monitoring by the government, and that escalating secretive technological surveillance violates an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, The Rutherford Institute had filed an amicus curiae brief in the case.
The Rutherford Institute’s brief in United States v. Jones is available here.
“We have entered a new and frightening age when advancing technology is erasing the Fourth Amendment,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Thankfully, in recognizing that the placement of a GPS device on Antoine Jones's Jeep violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure, the U.S. Supreme Court has sent a resounding message to government officials—especially law enforcement officials—that there are limits to their powers.”
In September 2005, without Antoine Jones’s knowledge or consent, police placed a GPS device on the undercarriage of Jones’ Jeep vehicle while it was parked in a public lot in Maryland. GPS devices use orbiting satellites to produce accurate and continuous records of their position and of any person or object carrying the devices. Consequently, over the course of four weeks, police were able to monitor Jones’ movements and actions as he drove his vehicle. Based upon the detailed information obtained about Jones’ movements, police arrested and charged Jones with conspiracy to distribute drugs. Prior to trial, Jones moved to suppress the evidence obtained using the GPS monitoring, arguing that because the police had violated the terms of a court order allowing the placement of the GPS device on his vehicle, the evidence was obtained without a warrant in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The trial court rejected Jones’ motion to suppress.
However, on appeal, the D.C. Court of Appeals held that the use of the GPS device to track Jones and the evidence obtained constituted an illegal search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Additionally, the Court of Appeals rejected the government’s claim that no violation of Jones’ privacy had taken place because the evidence pertained to Jones’ movements while he was in public. In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the Court of Appeals’ ruling, Rutherford Institute attorneys pointed to numerous surveillance technologies available to the government, such as GPS, drones, and facial recognition, that threaten the right of citizens to be free from government monitoring. “While this technology can serve a useful purpose in apprehending criminals,” the brief argued, “the essence of the Fourth Amendment dictates that law enforcement officials not be permitted free reign to conduct high-tech surveillance absent judicial oversight through the warranting process.”