(CN) – Police can’t use global positioning surveillance, or GPS, to track suspects without a warrant, the D.C. Circuit ruled in its decision to overturn a criminal conviction.
The ruling stemmed from the criminal case against Antoine Jones, who claimed the FBI violated his Fourth Amendment rights by tracking his vehicle by GPS without a warrant.
The use of GPS tracking can replace 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 number of people, according to court papers.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation argued on Jones’s behalf that the use of GPS is not covered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s “beeper” ruling 25 years ago. The high court’s ruling in that case, United States v. Knotts, permitted the use of legally installed radio beepers to help police physically follow 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.
A three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., with Jones that GPS use violated his Fourth Amendment rights and overturned his conviction for drug trafficking.
“The GPS data were essential to the government’s case,” Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg wrote. “By combining them with Jones’s cell-phone records the government was able to paint a picture of Jones’s movements that made credible the allegation that he was involved in drug trafficking.”
Ginsburg said a “reasonable person does not expect anyone to monitor and retain a record of every time he drives his car, including his origin, route, destination, and each place he stops and how long he stays there.”