(Decided January 23, 2012)
The US Supreme court has held that the attachment of GPS tracking devise on a vehicle travelling on the public highways is considered a search subject to 50 years of search and seizure case law. Accordingly, with out a warrant executed by a neutral and detached magistrate, the use of same violates the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution. The key to the court’s decision was the invasion of the individual’s right to privacy.
The Government obtained a search warrant permitting it to install a Global-Positioning-System (GPS) tracking device on a vehicle registered to respondent Jones’s wife. The warrant authorized installation in the District of Columbia and within 10 days, but agents installed the device on the 11th day and in Maryland. The Government then tracked the vehicle’s movements for 28 days. It subsequently secured an indictment of Jones and others on drug trafficking conspiracy charges. The District Court suppressed the GPS data obtained while the vehicle was parked at Jones’s residence, but held the remaining data admissible because Jones had no reasonable expectation of privacy when the vehicle was on public streets. Jones was convicted. The D. C. Circuit reversed, concluding that admission of the evidence obtained by warrantless use of the GPS device violated the Fourth Amendment.
Held: The Government’s attachment of the GPS device to the vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 3–12.
(a) The Fourth Amendment protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Here, the Government’s physical intrusion on an “effect” for the purpose of obtaining information constitutes a “search.” This type of encroachment on an area enumerated in the Amendment would have been considered a search within the meaning of the Amendment at the time it was adopted.