Supreme Court Will Hear Warrantless GPS Tracking Cases in Fall

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Top 10 Privacy Issues for 2011

Social media and location-based technologies top the list of concerns.

In August 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that law enforcement officers did not violate an individual's Fourth Amendment rights when, without a warrant, they placed a global positioning system on his vehicle, and then tracked his movements to gather evidence of drug offenses. Among other things, the court decided the defendant did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in his driveway. The driveway was "open to strangers, such as delivery people and neighborhood children, who could wander across it uninvited," the court said.


Earlier that same month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that law enforcement did, in fact, need a warrant to conduct "around-the-clock" tracking of suspects with a GPS device. In that case, federal agents had used a GPS attached to a suspect's car to track his movements for a month - without a warrant. In deciding the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights had been violated, Judge Douglas Ginsburg said, in part:

Prolonged GPS monitoring reveals an intimate picture of the subject's life that he expects no one to have short perhaps of his spouse ...

The split among the appellate circuits set up the perfect scenario for U.S. Supreme Court review of the issue, which was granted late last month, according to Reuters. The high court will hear the case in its next term, which begins in October.