Despite Supreme Court Decision, Obama Administration Insists GPS Tracking Doesn’t Require Warrant

Thursday, March 21, 2013
FBI Tracking Device (photo: Yasir Afifi)

The Obama administration is refusing to give up the legal fight over allowing law enforcement to affix GPS tracking devices to suspects’ cars without a warrant.


In January 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously voted to invalidate police efforts to skip the courts and monitor vehicles with electronic tracking. The justices concluded that attaching GPS devices amounted to a search protected by the Constitution, which meant law enforcement would have to obtain court orders going forward.


But the U.S. Department of Justice is still claiming that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other authorities shouldn’t have to get a warrant. In a case before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, federal attorneys planned to argue (pdf) that because the Supreme Court has granted police broad exemptions to obtaining search warrants, the same exemptions should apply to GPS devices.


The exemptions include oversight of school students and probationers, guarding the border, and searching vehicles and luggage for drugs.


In arguing that GPS vehicle tracking be a warrant-free tool of law enforcement, the Obama administration is claiming that the prevention of terrorism in the U.S.—in addition to fighting conventional crime and drug trafficking—is a primary reason that the court should rule in its favor. It also requests a lower standard that would allow police to attach GPS devices—merely “reasonable suspicion” rather than the Constitutional requirement of “probable cause.”


“Just because a technology wasn’t around when the Constitution was written doesn’t mean that it’s not covered,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Catherine Crump said in an advisory opinion. “The fundamental privacy rights established by the Fourth Amendment require that police justify their actions and show probable cause to a judge before they can conduct invasive surveillance like constant location tracking. The ‘automobile exception’ was created so police could find contraband hidden in cars, not so they could monitor a person’s movements nonstop for days or even months on end.”

-Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Feds: No Warrant Needed to Track Your Car With a GPS Device (by David Kravets, Wired)

Obama Administration: Warrantless GPS Tracking Needed to Fight Terrorism (by Stephen C. Webster, Raw Story)

What Aren’t the Feds Telling Us About their Surveillance Techniques Since Warrantless GPS Tracking Struck Down—and Why (by Liz Klimas, The Blaze)

Supreme Court Unanimously Rejects Obama Administration on Warrantless GPS Tracking (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)  

Obama Administration Fights to Allow Warrantless GPS Tracking (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

FBI Demands Return of Spy Device Student Found on His Car (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov) 


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