GPS Tracking Devices In United States v Jones – United States Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court held that GPS tracking devices were not allowed to be attached an individual’s vehicle unless the government has first obtained a warrant to attach such a device. See United States v Jones. The defendant Jones was being investigated by the federal government, which included surveillance, cameras, and wiretaps of Jones’s phone. Using the information obtained from the investigation, the Federal Government applied for a warrant to use a GPS tracking device to track Jones’s movements, yet the government failed to attach the device prior to the ten-day deadline noted inside the warrant to use a GPS tracking device.

The Court began its analysis by looking at the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which prohibits an “unreasonable search and seizure.” In order to determine what is an unreasonable search or seizure the analysis hinges on the whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in regards to the area or thing being searched or seized. The Court noted previous holdings where it had to determine the legitimacy of a “beeper” GPS tracking device in the eyes of the Fourth Amendment. Those cases were different than in Jones because the item tagged with the “beeper” (or GPS tracking device) was owned by a third-party and not the individual defendant being investigated.

Even though the government is allowed to watch, follow, and tape an individual from a distance, the Court in Jones explained that attaching a GPS tracking device to a vehicle went too far. The need for a warrant is necessary due to the invisible line that is crossed when the government encroaches an individual’s personal property, even when using a GPS tracking device.

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