Supreme Court demands warrants for GPS tracking

In a blow to Obama’s increasingly heavy-handed, invasive administration, the Supreme Court has ruled that law enforcement agencies must require a warrant before they are able to monitor vehicles via GPS devices.

Luckily for law enforcement agencies, they can probably phone up their friends at Apple who will do them the favour. In a statement, reports David Kravets in Wired’s ThreatLevel blog,  Justice Antonin Scalia ruled that the “government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search’.”

However, it seems there’s some confusion about using GPS monitors in the short-term. Four in the Supreme Court agreed that using GPS devices for surveillance purposes in the long term does require a warrant, but maintained an air of silence about tracking over a longer spell. 

The whole debate began because a nightclub owner was suspected of drug trafficking. FBI spooks tried a range of tactics but eventually got Antoine Jones by fitting a GPS device into his car.

They tracked him for a full 28 days, even rushing in to change the device’s battery on one occasion, ultimately producing over 2,000 pages worth of information. Jones was charged with intent to supply five kilograms of cocaine and over 50 grams of cocaine base. 

But because the FBI thought the rules didn’t apply to attaching tracking kits to people’s cars, the justices threw out Jones’ life sentence in the end, according to Wired.

The government, throughout the case, admitted to the Supreme Court that it has been tracking thousands of Americans by GPS tracking each year – because it is a vital tactic to tackle crime. Which is why, the US government says, it is leaning on the Court to rethink its position.