The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that police use of a Global Positioning System tracking device on a suspect’s vehicle without a search warrant violated the Constitution. Legal analysts characterize the January 23 decision as the first major Supreme Court ruling on privacy issues in the digital age.
“The important point is the unanimity in the result, which may signal the Court will not look kindly on invasions of privacy by high-tech means in future cases,” said Patrick Wright, senior legal analyst at the Michigan-based free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
“The government conceded installing the GPS device on the defendant’s auto amounted to a trespass on private property, but called it a trivial one, which is kind of like being a little bit pregnant,” said Maureen Martin, managing editor of Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly and senior fellow for legal affairs at The Heartland Institute, which publishes InfoTech & Telecom News. “The majority opinion, authored by Justice Scalia, saw the fallacy in the government position and held that even a small trespass constituted an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment.”
Four justices joined in Scalia’s opinion (Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, and Sotomayor). The other four justices (Alito, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan) concurred with the judgment but not Scalia’s reasoning), Martin noted.
“The important point, though, is the unanimity in the result, which may signal the Court will not look kindly on invasions of privacy by high-tech means in future cases,” Martin said.
Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of InfoTech & Telecom News.