As Jen posted Tuesday, the Supreme Court has ruled 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.” The five-justice majority notably left out its thoughts on whether that search was unreasonable and required a warrant.
U.S. v. Jones involved a drug dealer who appealed his conviction for conspiring to distribute drugs that was based on evidence the police collected via a GPS monitor physically attached to his vehicle. The police used the GPS monitor to track Antoine Jones’ movements for more than a month without a warrant. All nine justices upheld an appellate court decision reversing Jones’ conviction.
While the Supreme Court mentioned that police might need a probable cause warrant from a judge to physically attach a GPS device to a vehicle and monitor the vehicle’s movements, SCOTUS omitted a clear opinion on what specific situations required a warrant.
While the decision is better than what the government contended — that it could affix GPS devices on the vehicles of all members of the Supreme Court, if it desired, without a warrant — it is hard to tell where we stand in the increasing debate over our rights to privacy.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a concurring opinion, suggested Americans have more rights to privacy in data held by phone and Internet companies than the Supreme Court has held in the past. I did not own an iPhone at the time when everyone found out that Apple tracked its users, but I do own one now. And let me tell you — every time my device asks me whether it can “use my location,” I wonder if I should let it.
John W. Whitehead, writing at The Huffington Post, listed several sources of technology that spur the privacy debate. Drones, smart dust devices, surveillance cameras, facial recognition software, iris scanners and your very own cell phone are some of the items available to the police without engaging in a “search” pursuant to U.S. v. Jones.
This is because these technologies do not require the government to engage in a physical trespass of one’s property to gain information.
On another note, I sent in my very first set of discovery requests a few weeks ago that utilized requests for information available via social media. The latest case law (and there is still not much of it yet) leads us to believe that pokes, wall comments, status updates and the like will be discoverable if relevant to the matter being litigated. Is anything we do via our gadgets and on the Internet going to be protected in five years? What are your thoughts? Where do we draw the line?