The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to consider a case with far-reaching implications about privacy rights and technology, involving a suspected cocaine dealer whose movements were tracked with a global positioning device.
Winding up its term, the justices issued an order announcing that they had “granted cert” in the case of United States v. Antoine Jones. They instructed parties in the case to be prepared to argue whether the government violated Jones’s Fourth Amendment rights by installing a GPS device on his vehicle without a valid warrant and without his consent.
As Main Justice reported in April, the Justice Department asked the high court to consider the case. There have been conflicts among the federal circuits on the extent to which GPS technology can be used without a warrant, and the DOJ wanted clarification.
“GPS tracking is an important law enforcement tool, and the issue will therefore continue to arise,” the DOJ said in its petition. “This Court should intervene to clarify the governing legal principles that apply to an array of investigative techniques, and to establish when GPS tracking may lawfully be undertaken.”
Last August, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned his conviction and life sentence on grounds that the police unlawfully tracked his car’s movements by using GPS without a warrant. Three months later, the appeals court voted, 5-4, not to have the full court revisit the panel’s decision, prompting the DOJ to ask the Supreme Court to study the issue.
The American Civil Liberties Union has praised the appeals court decision, asserting that the protection of individual liberties requires that the technology of the 21st century “be evaluated on its own terms.”