Can the government track your every move without a valid Search warrant? Does putting a covert GPS monitoring device on your vehicle violate your right to privacy? Do you have an expectation of privacy as you drive around in public? As the use of new technologies increases, there are more and more difficult issues that are coming up in the struggle between an individual citizen’s right to privacy and the government’s ability to monitor activity without a “traditional” search.
Soon, the United States Supreme Court will be addressing this issue. The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals recently heard a case (United States v. Maynard) in which the Government used a GPS tracking device to monitor the movement of a suspect in a drug case 24 hours a day for 28 days. During the investigation, the device was covertly attached to the suspect’s vehicle following a court order allowing the government to perform surveillance through the use of GPS. This would have been legal (and the citizen’s rights protected, if the government had obtained a valid search warrant and gotten court approval), except both sides agree that the court order authorizing the use of a covert GPS was invalid.
The suspect was subsequently arrested and was found guilty at trial. Upon appeal, the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the conviction stating that the use of a GPS tracking system on the defendant’s vehicle constituted a search and thus, was a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to privacy since a proper and valid warrant had not been executed.
The Government has recently petitioned for this case to be heard before the Supreme Court to address the issues surrounding the use of GPS monitoring (on public streets) of those who are suspected of committing crimes and whether or not it is a violation of Fourth Amendment rights to collect this data even if the police do not go inside your car. The Supreme Court has asked that the parties argue “whether the government violated respondent’s Fourth Amendment rights by installing the GPS tracking device on his vehicle without a valid warrant and without his consent.”
This case poses a far more alarming theme for all American citizens not simply those who are being investigated for criminal activity. Although the suspect in this case was allegedly involved in illegal drug activity, the government is seeking the right to be able to track every citizen’s movement without a search warrant, without your knowledge, and without judicial oversight. If the Court is to uphold that GPS monitoring devices are not a violation of the Fourth Amendment, GPS surveillance without warrant could lead to 24/7 monitoring of any citizen, any time. This is an Orwellian theme that may have seemed impossible 30 years ago but with the constant advancement of technology is an ever-growing possibility today. Our Justice System must continue to adapt in order to protect the rights of citizens from constantly advancing technology that could be used to make our great republic a “big brother state.”
At the same time, warrantless GPS monitoring, wire-tapping and water boarding could help protect America’s citizens from very real threats to national security. Some may also argue that if there is nothing to be guilty of, there is no need for concern. The more fundament issues we must all keep in mind: Yes, we can reduce crime and the threat of terrorism, in direct proportion to reducing freedom. Do the ends justify the means? Even if the majority of people today will gladly follow like lemmings into water way over their head for a sense of security, will our Supreme Court continue to breathe life into our Constitution to protect the rest of us who believe in freedom and liberty, and privacy? Our sacred rights, protected by the greatest document ever written by Man, are only one Justice’s vote away from being gutted.