CyberScout

The Supreme Court GPS Ruling Is Good News for Privacy, Sort Of

The Supreme Court GPS Ruling Is Good News for Privacy, Sort Of

The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision on GPS tracking is a mixed bag for privacy rights.

In a unanimous ruling, the justices required law enforcement officials to obtain a search warrant before they attach a GPS tracking device to a vehicle. A warrantless search would violate the Fourth Amendment.

But the court ducked the larger issue of whether warrants are required for other kinds of surveillance technology, including geolocation tracking in cellphones and RFID tags.

It may be disappointing, but it doesn't come as a complete surprise. Sure, the justices engaged in a lively discussion last November of a person's reasonable expectation of privacy in a digital world. But in their eyes, the case centered around the "physical intrusion on [the Defendant's] Jeep."

The decision concerned the case of Antoine Jones, who was sentenced to life in prison for possession and distribution of drugs. Law enforcement gathered evidence for his conviction with by placing a GPS tracking device on his vehicle—without obtaining a warrant.

The decision will impact pending cases where a GPS device was attached to a vehicle without a warrant. The Supreme Court must next address whether warrants are required for other types of digital monitoring.