The following news article appears in The Baltimore Examiner. The article is reproduced by permission below. To see how it appears in the Examiner, go to: http://www.examiner.com/courts-in-baltimore/supreme-court-eyes-gps-modern-crime-buster-or-big-brother-privacy-invader
All eyes will be on the U.S. Supreme Court this fall as the nine justices hear a compelling case concerning the warrantless use of GPS devices by law enforcement and big government. Many hope the Court will halt the continuing invasion of personal privacy in our ever-advancing technological age.
Americans believe in the right to privacy – we’ve fought for it time and time again, in cases against the federal and state governments and in cases against companies and individuals. But, in today’s world, where cars navigate via Global Positioning Systems (GPS), cell phones continually monitor our locations, and people “check in” themselves and their friends to local venues on Facebook, is our presumption of privacy going the way of paper maps and telephone booths?
Law enforcement personnel seem to think so. But, advocates for individual rights, including criminal defense attorneys like those at Baltimore’s Ingerman & Horwitz (www..com) and the lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), disagree. Now, thanks to police abuse of the technological advances of the modern age, the right to a private life, which has been cherished and safeguarded since this country was founded, sits in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.
In November, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in United States v. Jones, a case which could (in the words of Jeffrey Rosen of the NY Times) “redefine the scope of privacy in an age of increasingly ubiquitous surveillance technologies.”
The government’s use of ever-newer (and ever more invasive) technologies to track the whereabouts of its citizens has left a growing number of people with the belief that it is becoming too much like “Big Brother” – a concept made famous by George Orwell’s novel, 1984. In fact, the NY Times notes that the novel is being referenced more often as judges are asked to decide whether such tracking violates the Fourth Amendment.
“1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it’s here at last,” wrote Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco. Other judges citing or referring to Orwell include Diane Wood of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Chicago and Nicholas Garaufis of the federal court in Brooklyn. (Both the 7th and 9th Circuits have allowed police to use GPS devices without a warrant.)
Jones argues that such warrantless GPS surveillance violated his “reasonable expectation of privacy.” In their defense, the FBI and Washington, D.C. police say that Jones was a known drug dealer, and they used the GPS device to track him repeatedly to his “safe house” where he stashed his merchandise, weapons, and hundreds of thousands in cash. Police argue that before the advent of GPS, it was routine law enforcement procedure to follow a suspect or sit in a car for hours or days conducting surveillance and no warrant was required. They say GPS has given them a new, more time-efficient tool to use in the war on crime, and that nothing else has changed.
Law enforcement officials further argue that the GPS device should be treated the same as a beeper, the use of which the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled (in United States v. Knotts) does not violate the right to privacy. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagreed, however, and highlighted the difference between the 24-hour surveillance of a GPS device and the limited information emitted by a beeper in its opinion in Jones: “Unlike one‘s movements during a single journey, the whole of one‘s movements over the course of a month is not actually exposed to the public because the likelihood anyone will observe all those movements is effectively nil.”
That kind of knowledge violates a person’s right to privacy, said the Court, because it provides a picture of a person’s private life that would never be present in day-to-day public exposure. “A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly churchgoer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts,” stated the Court in its opinion.
The unconstitutional breach of privacy inherent in the use of a GPS device – this time secretly attached to a government worker’s private car – is also at the root of a case currently being heard by a New York State appeals court. In that instance, a New York Civil Liberties Union lawyer argued that it was an unjustifiable invasion of privacy when investigators placed a GPS device on the worker’s BMW since the monitoring continued during evenings, weekends,and a multi-day family vacation. The worker, who had almost three decades of state service, was ultimately fired from his $115,000 job for misconduct after a hearing officer concluded he falsified time sheets based, in part, on the data obtained from the GPS tracker.
At issue here is the very assumption of individual privacy. If – as law enforcement personnel would like – the Court allows for the warrantless, 24- hour surveillance inherent in the use of the GPS device then any citizen of the country could be subjected to undisclosed monitoring at any time and for any length of time, without judicial oversight – with or without cause. And, that is – absolutely – an unconstitutional breach of privacy. For further inside the law information, go to: www.justtellitlikeitis.com.