A user’s manual that’s 200+ years old can be difficult to apply to modern technologies. Thus, it’s been a challenge for judges interpreting the Fourth Amendment as it applies to police surveillance via GPS tracking devices on cars.
There has been a plethora of precedents set across the country as to whether slapping a GPS tracker on a car is considered a “search” and whether a warrant is needed. A Wisconsin state court decided last year that warrantless GPS surveillance is okay. Within a week of the Wisconsin decision, a New York state court disagreed. More recently, the D.C. Circuit ruled that GPS tracking is indeed a search, and introduced what the Volokh Conspiracy’s Orin Kerr called a “mosaic theory of the Fourth Amendment,” i.e., that a series of discrete facts may be public, but their aggregation may violate privacy rights. Kerr dissed the D.C. Circuit’s mosaic ruling, but Cato’s Julian Sanchez was a fan.
The Ninth Circuit got in on the GPS-Fourth Amendment throwdown too. As noted by How Appealing, a Ninth Circuit panel — consisting of two of the court’s more conservative members, Diarmuid O’Scannlain and Randy Smith, and Judge Charles Wolle (S.D. Iowa), sitting my designation — ruled that police officers who placed a GPS device on the underbed of a suspected drug dealer’s car while it was parked outside of his house did not violate his constitutional rights.
Chief Judge Alex Kozinski was not happy about their decision. He wrote an angry dissent from the denial of rehearing en banc, accusing the judges of “cultural elitism,” by granting privacy rights to the rich but not to the poor…