Use of GPS Technology

The Supreme Court has agreed to review whether the government's warrantless use of a Global Positioning System device to monitor the public movements of a suspect's motor vehicle for one month was an unreasonable search in violation of the suspect's Fourth Amendment rights.

The scope and reach of the meaning of a Fourth Amendment "search" must adapt to keep pace with the march of improved technology. Warrantless tracking of a suspect's motor vehicle through a GPS device does not in any way compromise an individual's expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment. If there is no invasion of a reasonable expectation of privacy, there is no "search" and therefore no violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Historically, although courts have been vigilant about the sanctity of the home, they have afforded significantly less protection to individuals traveling in public.

In fact, the Supreme Court has expressly held that an individual traveling on a public highway has no "reasonable expectation of privacy in his movement." Police monitoring of a suspect's vehicle by use of a GPS device is not a "search" and therefore does not require probable cause.

The police could freely observe a suspect's public movements by following the suspect's car, use of satellite imagery, or even by monitoring lamp post security cameras. GPS tracking falls into this same category because the GPS device merely transmits position coordinates, which are otherwise visually observable in a public setting.

GPS tracking will not open the floodgates to arbitrary mass surveillance. The use of GPS tracking has been, and will continue to be, confined to situations when officers have already identified suspects as the focus of their investigations.

The Fourth Amendment has adapted to many technological innovations, including motor vehicles, binoculars, beepers, thermal imaging devices and now GPS tracking devices. None of these devices has in any way burdened the Fourth Amendment while at the same time enabling our courageous law enforcement community to continue to efficiently keep pace with the ever evolving techniques of criminal and terroristic enterprise.

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