Warrants Needed for GPS Monitoring, Supreme Court Rules

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday the authorities need a probable-cause warrant from a judge to affix a GPS device to a vehicle and monitor its every move.

The decision (.pdf) in what is arguably the biggest Fourth Amendment case in the computer age, rejected the Obama administration’s position. The government had told the high court that it could affix GPS devices on the vehicles of all members of the Supreme Court, without a warrant.

“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search,’” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote.

In  a footnote, Scalia added that, “Whatever new methods of investigation may be devised, our task, at a minimum, is to decide whether the action in question would have constituted a ‘search’ within the original meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Where, as here, the government obtains information by physically intruding on a constitutionally protected area, such a search has undoubtedly occurred.”

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