Tuesday, January 24, 2012

They Did What?

Well, slap my face and call me Fanny. The US Supreme Court issued an opinion which both delighted and surprised me in all sorts of ways. Yesterday's opinion came down on the correct side of the Fourth Amendment.

The Supreme Court confronted for the first time the government's growing use of digital technology to monitor Americans and ruled strongly in favor of privacy.

The court said the Constitution generally barred the police from tracking an individual with a GPS device attached to a car unless they were issued a warrant from a judge in advance. But the ruling could limit a host of devices including surveillance cameras and cellphone tracking, legal experts said. ...

Even the justices who most often side with prosecutors rejected the government's view that Americans driving on public streets have waived their right to privacy and can be tracked and monitored at will. At least five justices appeared inclined, in the future, to go considerably beyond the physical intrusion involved in putting a GPS device on a car and rule that almost any long-term monitoring with a technological device could violate an individual's right to privacy.
[Emphasis added]

What is so stunning is that all nine justices agreed that the state clearly violated the Fourth Amendment with the warrantless imposition of a tracking device on the defendant's car. That all nine could agree on anything is something of a surprise; that they would all agree that even defendants in a drug case are entitled to constitutional protections is nothing short of a miracle.

But wait, there's more: five justices seem willing to extend the ruling to other technological monitoring such as cell phone tracking. This decision didn't go that far, but the various concurring opinions seem to point in that direction should the right cases come along.

What a wonderful way to start the week.

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Blogger John Gardner said...

it was definitely a weird ruling though, with Sotomayor kindof agreeing with both sides by agreeing with the majority but not formally joining the opinion. Strange.

9:43 AM  

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