Supreme Court Oral Arguments on Warrantless GPS Tracking

Here's the transcript of today's oral argument in U.S. v. Antoine Jones, the case regarding warrantless GPS tracking devices. Basically,

The case concerned Antoine Jones, who was the owner of a Washington nightclub when the police came to suspect him of being part of a cocaine-selling operation. They placed a tracking device on his Jeep Grand Cherokee without a valid warrant, tracked his travels for a month and used the evidence they gathered to convict him of conspiring to sell cocaine. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The DC Court of Appeals reversed his conviction (opinion here.) [More...]

Justice Breyer today said to counsel for the Government:

“if you win this case, then there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States.” And that, Justice Breyer said, “sounds like ‘1984.’ ”

ScotusBlog has this recap of the arguments. Multiple news sources report the justices seemed troubled by the Government's arguments.

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    Fascinating case for this court (none / 0) (#1)
    by BobTinKY on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 07:41:07 AM EST
    Have to think Scalito et al want to rule for the police but I think even they can't go this far.  Well, maybe one or two of them will.

    The killer fact against the government, as I understood the Newshour summary last night, is they tracked this guy's car for a month.  If this was a suspected drug dealer why couldn't the police get a warrant to do what they did?  They had & used an entire month!

    Get the warrant!

    In addition, while it may be unreasonable to think you won't be observed as you travel in your vehicle, I think it is entirely reasonable to expect your vehicle has not been tampered with in a way that allows remotely located persons to track your every movement.

    It is my understanding that (none / 0) (#2)
    by MO Blue on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 07:55:16 AM EST
    the police initially had a warrant but it had expired and it was not valid in the state where he was caught with the cocaine.

    Otherwise I agree. Get a valid warrant.  


    Interesting facts (none / 0) (#5)
    by BobTinKY on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 09:24:01 AM EST
    to your first point, easy to renew a warrant.

    Second point, the "bug" travels outside the jurisdiction of the court that authorized the warrant.  Nice wrinkle.  Must be the same with cell phones though, no?  What's the law on that?

    I just think the ease with which police can get a warrant in these circumstances should allow even the "law & order" (stifling a laugh) conservative justices a way to dispose of the matter in a way that does not really make police work any more difficult.


    Wouldn't it be the same (none / 0) (#7)
    by jbindc on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 10:06:41 AM EST
    As Internet usage?  

    SCOTUS may decide "inevitable (none / 0) (#9)
    by oculus on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 12:40:31 PM EST

    Sure (none / 0) (#12)
    by jbindc on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 03:52:08 PM EST
    But in reference to the question about a waarant from one jurisdiction nabbing someone in another jurisdiction - I would think that happens all the time in things like cyber crime and pedophiltrying to meet up with juveniles, no?  The police get the warrant where the information is being received, not necessarily from where it is originating.  Just as a GPS signal would be received.

    Any cyber crime specialists out there?


    It might be easy to renew a warrant (none / 0) (#10)
    by MO Blue on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 01:11:27 PM EST
    but it seems that the District of Columbia failed to do so in this case. As to your other question, I don't know as I'm nowhere close to being a lawyer and was only clarifying the circumstances of the case in question which was discussed on NPR yesterday.

    Key evidence in the case against him was obtained in 2005, when District of Columbia police got a warrant to secretly install a GPS device in order to monitor the Jeep Cherokee driven by Jones and his wife. The warrant expired after 10 days, but the police nevertheless used the GPS to monitor everywhere he drove, every 10 seconds, for 28 days. He led them to his "stash house" in a Maryland suburb, where they found powder and crack cocaine, plus $850,000 in cash. Jones tried to have his conviction set aside, arguing that warrantless GPS surveillance violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable government searches and seizures. slate

    I don't know man.... (none / 0) (#3)
    by kdog on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 09:04:42 AM EST
    Their decision on the Kentucky v. King case is not a good precedent for this court regarding 4th amendment right...can't say I'm confident they will side with the people on this one.

    Well if you don't need a warrant for GPS tracking (none / 0) (#4)
    by BobTinKY on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 09:19:15 AM EST
    why not have auto manufacturers install GPS tracking on each new vehicle and create a national tracking center?

    Don't give the tyrants... (none / 0) (#6)
    by kdog on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 09:42:38 AM EST
    any ideas...2013 and after models might be mandated to include a tracking device, and it would be a pretty hefty contract for a crony to run the national tracking center under the supervision of DHS.

    Plenty Do (none / 0) (#8)
    by ScottW714 on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 11:40:24 AM EST
    Plenty of vehicles already have some sort of GPS built in, like OnStar, that can track the vehicle.

    Where does self tracking fit into this, like GPS one uses to get directions, phone GPS, separate GPS, or built-in GPS.

    One more note, all of our phones have a GPS chip by law, yet you never here about them using it, even when someone goes missing.  When can they activate that option ?


    Using cell phone locations to (none / 0) (#11)
    by caseyOR on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 03:03:40 PM EST
    find people who are lost has been used here in Oregon. One case that comes to mind involved a woman whose car went off the road into a woody ravine. The police used "pinging" info to find her.

    The most dramatic occurred a few years around Thanksgiving. A couple and their two young daughters were driving back to their Bay Area home. Their GPS sent them over the Coast Range on a logging road that was supposed to be closed in winter. They got trapped in snow. The only thing that clued rescuers as to where to look was, once agin, "pinging". Sadly, while the mother and the children survived,the father died trying to hike out.


    the same transcript? (none / 0) (#13)
    by diogenes on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 09:32:29 PM EST
    I read that the court was at times troubled by the government's arguments but that the justices kept telling Jones' attorney that he basically had no logical case.