Antoine Jones

The Supreme Court just handed down a unanimous opinion ruling in one of the most closely watched cases of the year. All the justices agreed on the result, but diverged significantly in reasoning.

This morning, the court issued its decision in United States v. Jones. Police in Washington, D.C. placed a GPS tracking device on the car of Antoine Jones, a nightclub owner, without obtaining a warrant. The GPS device helped law enforcement link Jones to a house used to store drugs and money. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison. An appeals court later overturned his conviction.

The central issue in Jones was whether attaching a GPS device to a car (i.e., allowing law enforcement 24/7 access to a person’s movements), without obtaining a warrant first, violated the Fourth Amendment.

The case has been heralded as one of the most important privacy cases in recent memory. Wired’s Threat Level blog said Jones “is arguably the biggest Fourth Amendment case in the computer age.” Editor emerita Kashmir Hill attended oral arguments for the case back in November.

What did the justices say? The ruling might surprise you…

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WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 08:  U.S. Supreme Court m...

“If you win this case, there is nothing to prevent the police or government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States,” said Justice Breyer.

The Supreme Court justices were decked out in their usual black robes today for U.S. vs Jones [pdf], a case involving the question of whether police need a warrant to attach a GPS tracker to someone’s car. But given their paranoia about possible technology-enabled government intrusions on privacy, it might not have been surprising if they had also been wearing tin foil hats.

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