‘Big Brother’ Issues Raised in ACLU Brief on Police Use of GPS Tracking

     WASHINGTON (CN) – It is unconstitutional for police to use a global positioning system to track the movements of an individual’s automobile over an extended period of time without a warrant, the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area and the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue in an appellate brief. The groups say warrantless GPS tracking violates the Fourth Amendment and brings the country closer to being a “Big Brother” state.

     The use of GPS tracking provides a complete technological replacement for human surveillance, enables 24-hour surveillance at nominal cost, allows police to track vehicles in private places and public roads, and enables the simultaneous surveillance of an unlimited amount of people, court papers state.
     The ACLU and EFF claim the use of GPS is not covered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s “beeper” case ruling 25 years ago. The court’s ruling in that case permitted the use of lawfully installed radio “beepers” to augment the senses of police physically following a vehicle on public roads. But the court made it clear that the ruling did not control “dragnet-type law enforcement practices,” or technical intrusion into private places.
     “The Fourth Amendment has to confront 21st century problems,” said Daniel Prywes, of Bryan Cave, who filed the amicus brief for the ACLU. “In the beeper case, the court was not dealing with a media nearly as powerful, intrusive and that brings us closer to being a ‘Big Brother’ state.”
     The Supreme Court also recognized that a Fourth Amendment search may occur through the advancement of technology to reveal detailed and personal information about individuals, court papers state. The ACLU and EFF claim that these characteristics apply to the use of GPS and therefore a warrant should be issued before its use. They say that unchecked usage of GPS creates a “Big Brother” type of police surveillance and violates most Americans’ desire to have their privacy and not have their every movement be tracked by third parties.
     The appeal stems from a criminal case against Antoine Jones, who claims the FBI violated his Fourth Amendment rights by tracking his vehicle by GPS without a warrant. Similar cases are being heard in state courts, some of which include similar tracking using one’s cell phone. Prywes said advancements in technology such as public surveillance cameras, GPS tracking and cell phone tracking have challenged the Fourth Amendment.
     “Certainly, there’s the potential for police to substantially infringe on our privacy that would violate any reasonable expectation the public has for privacy,” Prywes said.
     Prywes said the government has 45 days to submit an opposition brief and then the ACLU and EFF has 30 days after that to submit a reply brief. Prywes expects the court to hear oral arguments on the matter this fall.

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