United States v. Jones
The United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that law enforcement, federal and/or state, must obtain a search warrant before attaching a GPS device to a suspect’s vehicle. In United States v. Jones, a Washington, D.C. nightclub owner named Antoine Jones was suspected of cocaine drug trafficking. Police attached a GPS to the underside of Jones’s vehicle and monitored his movements for a month. The information gathered by the GPS device helped the trial court convict Jones of drug crimes and he appealed his conviction.
The Supreme Court Justices ruled that attaching the GPS device to Jones’ vehicle constituted a search under the Forth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and therefore a search warrant should have been issued. In making this decision, the Justices weighed the fact that where we drive on public streets is not necessarily a secret; however, everyone should have a reasonable expectation of privacy that our movements will not be monitored by the government for a month. The Supreme Court concluded that Jones did have a reasonable expectation of privacy that the police would not physically place a GPS tracker on the underside of his vehicle.
The prosecutions argument that people on a public street have no expectation of privacy was faulty because it wasn’t the presence of the street that gave rise to the expectation of privacy; it was the movements of Jones that gave rise to the privacy right. As technology develops, courts are consistently revisiting the limits of constitutional protections against government intrusions into our lives. This decision will go a long way to help protect the 4th Amendment rights of criminal defendants who were charged after high-tech investigation techniques.
The implications of this case are very encouraging to those who are concerned with upholding the United States Constitution and those who have respect for the American right to privacy. As new technology becomes more prevalent and the tracking of those with smartphones, GPS devices, personal computers becomes even easier, the government is going to be ever more tempted to invade it’s citizens right to privacy. What about the “cloud”? If the government had the ability to view everyone’s information that is being stored in the “cloud” will officials be respectful of a person’s right to privacy? Hopefully the Jones ruling will put police on notice that just because it is easy to track someone or spy on them, doesn’t make it right if proper constitutional protections being honored.
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