The Justice Department keeps your position on GPS tracking

In a surprise move Thursday, the federal government notified an appeals court that it reserves the right to secretly place GPS tracking devices in private vehicles without first obtaining a court order. Many wonder what the Justice Department is thinking since the long-awaited Supreme Court ruling in January on this issue. In January, the Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously in the case United States v. Jones that the law enforcement practice of attaching a GPS tracking device to a vehicle without first obtaining a court order was unconstitutional and a violation of the Fourth Amendment. In the Fourth Amendment it protects the “right of people to be safe in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

According to a Justice Department spokesman, “a warrant is not needed for a GPS search, as the Supreme Court did not resolve that issue.” However, the Department expressed restraint in using these practices. The government presented this argument to the Ninth Circuit of Appeals, claiming that the Supreme Court intentionally left its vague language as a loophole.

The media has been covering the warrantless GPS tracking argument, as well as other privacy-related issues for quite some time. If the reader of this article believes that the government’s argument is based solely on the physical GPS tracking devices used by law enforcement agencies, they would be wrong as the significance runs much deeper.

Monitoring of the average citizen

Whether you know it or not, the ability to track your whereabouts is already in place. Even without GPS tracking technology, your cell phone can be tracked by cell triangulation where cell phone towers can roughly pinpoint your location. However, most modern electronic devices, especially smartphones, are equipped with a GPS receiver due to inexpensive modules and popular applications that help Americans locate services, navigate, etc. Cellular triangulation is inaccurate and unreliable, while GPS pinpoints your location within a few feet.

Manufacturers of GPS tracking devices design portable and wired devices as a tool that improves business productivity, provides peace of mind for parents of teenage drivers and the location of elderly parents, as well as tools for police investigation. The question for the US government’s position should not be whether or not they are protecting the use of devices by law enforcement agencies for investigative purposes. The real question is whether they are setting the stage to separate the existing Supreme Court ruling as specific to police investigations. Therefore, monitoring mobile devices is not part of the existing law. The government will always have the ability to state that it is monitoring the device, not the individual. This is a slippery slope that most likely leads to the Supreme Court in the future.

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