Some in law enforcement see no reason to ask judges for an OK before attaching GPS devices to cars because they contend police are already free to conduct surveillance by simply following people around. There is, at least in their minds, no legal difference between trailing someone by car or on foot and using technology.
But we see a huge difference between planting a tracking device in a car and simply following someone. Attaching a GPS device to a vehicle is an invasive act.
And unlike following someone, which can be easily detectable with a simple glance, the suspects do not know they are being followed when a GPS device is planted in their vehicle.
Planting a GPS device is an invasion of privacy on par with searching a house and should require a warrant.
But whether warrants will be necessary in the future will depend on how the U.S. Supreme Court rules.
In the case, a GPS tracker was placed on the car of Antoine Jones, a suspected drug dealer in Washington, D.C., who was convicted of selling cocaine and sentenced to life in prison based on evidence of his movements obtained by the device.
A warrant had been obtained, but it expired before the device was installed. U.S. Justice Department lawyers argued no warrant was really needed anyway, but an appeals court overturned Jones' conviction.
We agree with the appeals court. Installing a tracker without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In a similar case, evidence from a tracking device installed without a warrant on a car belonging to Yusuf Bey IV helped convict him of murder. Bey's lawyer argued the tracking data was obtained illegally, but a judge ruled otherwise.
That ruling could crumble if the high court sees the planting of tracking devices as an unreasonable search.
"All the police have to do is get a warrant. What's the big deal?" asked Gene Peretti, the lawyer for Bey.
Getting a warrant should be routine, like getting a warrant to search a car or a house.
This simple step provides an important balance to the process. It ensures judicial oversight to protect citizens from the policy misusing their authority.
A GPS device hidden without a warrant it is clearly a breach of the Fourth Amendment.