The high court will review a Washington case in which D.C. police put a GPS device on the Jeep of Antoine Jones, a nightclub owner suspected of operating a cocaine distribution ring. The police tracked Jones' movements for a month, and he was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison partly because of the GPS surveillance. Jones' lawyer, Stephen Leckar, said police used a machine that noted Jones' location every 10 seconds for a month.
"That's putting a human being under a microscope, and that's just not right," he said.
Two other courts have ruled that police can use GPS monitoring without a warrant.
The Virginia Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the tactic when Fairfax County Police put a GPS device on the van of a convicted rapist suspected in a series of attacks. The court said he had no expectation of privacy on a public street.
California's 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling that installing a GPS to track a suspect is no different than having an officer tail him, also authorized the use of warrantless GPS tracking.
The Supreme Court will answer two questions regarding the high-tech surveillance, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center: the constitutionality of installing a warrantless GPS device, and then using one to track a vehicle's movements. Rotenberg said that allowing GPS surveillance without a warrant could have far-reaching implications.
"If the court does not establish constitutional safeguards, the police will have unrestricted authority to monitor the travels of virtually anyone they want," he said.