Should Police be Able to Track Drivers with GPS and No Warrant?

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D. Gilson is a writer and author of essays, poetry, and scholarship that explore the relationship between popular culture, literature, sexuality, and memoir. His latest book is Jesus Freak, with Will Stockton, part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Series. His other books include I Will Say This Exactly One Time and Crush. His first chapbook...

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore...

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UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020

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U.S. v. Jones involves police using GPS devices attached to a car without a warrant.

U.S. v. Jones involves police using GPS devices attached to a car without a warrant. (britannica.com)

When you consider the impact GPS has had on driving, it’s easy to see that it’s had a large effect on the way we drive. Starting off as separate devices drivers could install in their automobiles, they’ve quickly made their way into becoming installed by auto manufacturers as either standard or optional equipment. And with each successive model year, there are more and more cars on the road equipped with on-board GPS navigation systems.

We’ve talked in the past about how such systems can do more harm than good, since they can serve as a significant driver distraction. Not extremely interesting, but a case currently before the Supreme Court of the United States, involving a different type of GPS and automobiles, has certainly grabbed our attention.

The case itself is the United States v. Antoine Jones. The details surrounding the case involved the tossing out a conviction on drug conspiracy on Antoine Jones of Maryland. In his case, government agents put a self-contained GPS device that allowed authorities to track where Jones drove. That tracking allowed the government to conduct a secret investigation of Jones’ activities and was used to compile evidence used to initially convict Jones.

That conviction was overturned since the same FBI agents that conducted the investigation and installed the GPS unit on Jones’ car didn’t have a search warrant. The Obama administration is arguing that police have no requirement to obtain a warrant, since they don’t consider the electronic tracking a search.

The government’s argument seemed to stun Chief Justice John Roberts, who asked the Justice Department’s lawyer “so your answer is yes, you could tomorrow decide that you put a GPS device on every one of our cars, follow us for a month; no problem under the Constitution?”

While we don’t expect a decision to be handed down on this case until June, 2012, we’d love to know your thoughts. So we’ll go ahead and ask each of you this question: Should police be able to install a GPS device on your car to track your movements without a search warrant?

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