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Supreme Court Torn Over Warrantless GPS Tracking

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The Supreme Court echoed deep concerns on Tuesday over law enforcement officials’ use of GPS tracking devices in suspects’ cars without warrants. Nevertheless, the justices still appear unsettled over how or whether to regulate GPS tracking.

The Court recently heard arguments in the government’s appeal of a court ruling that overturned a drug conspiracy conviction of Antoine Jones. Jones’ car was warrantlessly monitored using a GPS device by the FBI agents and local police, and the justices were shocked after hearing testimony by the lawyer representing the government that police officers and the FBI are allowed to install GPS devices without warrants.

The issue arose after the federal appeals court overturned a drug conspiracy conviction against Antoine Jones, whom authorities linked to a suburban home, where he stashed drugs and money, using a GPS tracking device. Jones was sentenced to life in prison before the decision was overturned.

Thirty years ago, in 1983, the Supreme Court ruled that there is no expectation of privacy on public roads after hearing a case about beeper technology. However, beeper technology still required law enforcement officials to physically follow vehicles, whereas GPS obviously does not. The attorney for the government argued that it would be better for lawmakers to set limits on tracking technology, not judges, and that the concerns expressed over warrantless GPS tracking are similar to those originally expressed over the 1983 beeper technology. The justices appear torn over the issue, but a decision is expected by spring.