A Right to Privacy

Violating the Fourth Amendmant With Warrantless GPS Tracking

        During this fall session, the United States Supreme Court will hear what is possibly the most meaningful case pertaining to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution in the last decade or more. The court will essentially rule on what constitutes a person’s privacy. In the landmark case of Jones v United States, the Court will rule whether it was and is an unconstitutional act for law enforcement personnel to install a GPS tracking device on the car of a suspect without first obtaining a warrant, and subsequently track that persons movements for months at a time.

Jones arrested for drug possession

        Antoine Jones had been suspected of trafficking illegal narcotics in Virginia, by the FBI, who placed a GPS tracking device on his vehicle while parked in a public area, then used the device to track Jones’ movements for a month, eventually leading them to a depository of Jones’ which held nearly 100 kilograms of cocaine, and $850,000 in cash. Jones was tried and convicted to life in prison. This sentence was then nullified when a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the GPS tracking violated the rights of an American citizen; therefore, the arrest and conviction were due to unlawful practices and were thereby invalid. At issue here is whether or not the FBI violated Jones’ Fourth Amendment right guaranteeing protection from unlawful search and seizure, often referred to as the right to privacy, which states:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Traditionally, a violation of the Fourth Amendment has been determined by reference to the case Katz v. United States, and whether a citizen had an expectation of privacy, and whether society would view that expectation as being reasonable. The prosecution is arguing that no amendment right was violated because Jones was using public roads with his vehicle, and it could be reasonable that someone could have followed his every whereabouts by traditional surveillance or tailing. On top of this, it has previously been determined that a tracking beeper could is also legal for use. However, the Court ruled that as not admissible in this case, because the use of a tracking beeper requires close proximity of an officer; furthermore, a tracking beeper is a short term surveillance method, not a month long one as was the GPS. The defense is arguing that it is unreasonable to expect that you will be followed constantly for months on public roads, and thereby you have the assumption of privacy in your own vehicle. Washington D.C. circuit of appeals judge, Judge Douglass H. Ginsburg agreed, dissenting that:

“We hold the whole of a person’s movements over the course of a month is not actually exposed to the public because the likelihood a stranger would observe all those movements is not just remote, it is essentially nil. It is one thing for a passerby to observe or even to follow someone during a single journey as he goes to the market or returns home from work. It is another thing entirely for that stranger to pick up the scent again the next day and the day after that, week in and week out, dogging his prey until he has identified all the places, people, amusements, and chores that make up that person’s hitherto private routine… 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; rather, he expects each of those movements to remain disconnected and anonymous.”

        The United States of America grants all citizens a right to privacy in their personal dealings, and excessive surveillance violates that right. Without probable cause, if this is done by a citizen to another citizen it is referred to by the justice system as stalking. It is left to ask why the crime of stalking is not a crime when committed by law enforcement personnel? If there is probable cause for extended surveillance–which round the clock surveillance for one month certainly is—then a warrant ought to be attained for such surveillance, when it involves tampering with private property: i.e., phone taps, internet logging, GPS devices, and so forth. If the FBI wants to spend the man hours to have a unit tail a suspect on public roads 24 hours a day for one entire month they have every right to do so without probable cause and a warrant because the suspect and their personal property is being left as it is, and the surveillance is being done on public property. Tampering with that private property without a search warrant certainly falls under violating of the Fourth Amendment. Obtaining a warrant in this situation is as simple as telling a judge that there is reason to believe that Mr. Jones is trafficking large amounts of narcotics approaching 100 kgs, and providing some evidence to show the judge there is probable cause for the warrant. If this is not done it leaves open to question whether Jones was followed for no other reason than profiling, and the crime was discovered after the fact, in which case the evidence is not admissible in court. This is part of the reason Jones won his appeal.

        A warrant is not difficult to obtain, particularly when it involves thousands upon thousands of dollars in illegal narcotics. This brings up the greater question in the United States in recent years over surveillance, the patriot act. Should the government have the uninfringed right to surveillance on its citizens? Patriotslog maintains that, if the surveillance is of s domestic nature, and involving only United States citizens, there must be probable cause, and a warrant obtained in order to insure the rights of the citizens. This is where it gets tricky, in cases involving international correspondence and interaction there need not be a warrant, particularly if it involves a non-citizen. The obvious reason behind this is terrorism. The logic deducted in this view is that when a person is communicating overseas it then falls under international jurisdiction, and foreign affairs, which are not protected by the Fourth Amendment because it pertains to citizens living in the United States under the jurisdiction of law enforcement personnel. A citizen outside our sovereign boundaries is not subject to United States law enforcement jurisdiction, and therefore is not granted the rights of the Fourth Amendment. For this reason, a warrant ought not to be required to monitor calls, emails, or other correspondence of an international nature. Because this falls under international affairs this correspondence is subject to search for the public safety and welfare, much the same way a person’s bags are subject to search by a customs official who has not obtained a warrant. If that search (of emails, bags, phone calls, ect) yields evidence to s crime, then there is now probable cause for a warrant and subsequent investigation can ensue. However, a law enforcement officer has no right to search s person’s bag in their car, which has never left sovereign territory during an investigation because of Fourth Amendment protection. For this same reason a law enforcement officer has no right to place a GPS tracking device on the vehicle of a united states citizen without a warrant obtained through evidence of probable cause. I understand the argument that if a person has nothing to hide why should they care if their property is subject to search? This is very true, but the United States is not s country which compels its citizens to obedience, the bill of rights guarantees us privacy and security, excessive surveillance violates that. In the case of Jones v United States a warrant could have easily been obtained, as it ought to have been. If we allow law enforcement to become Big Brother we can see personal grudges resulting in finding any reason at all to convict a rival, even one who is guilty of little or no criminal activity. A political candidate running against a seated representative could bribe or convince law enforcement to use warrantless wire taps to “make sure” thier oponent is not committing a crime similar to Watergate, then use that information against the candidate. As much as it is painful to see Jones, an obvious criminal, co free, it needs to be done in this case, because of the precedent it would set to have him convicted on faulty law enforcement practices. United States citizens have a right to privacy, which was isolated by the FBI in the case of Jones. I do not want to see him go free, but he needs to. At least this time the FBI has more than enough probable cause to obtain a warrant, and if Antoine Jones does not reform his life to be an upstanding citizen, evidence obtained through a warrant could and should lock him away for a very long time.

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About patriotslog

I am studying to achieve a double major in political science and journalism from the University of Kentucky. I am married to a wonderful woman named Sierra. I am starting this blog because I feel the political climate in Washington is carving deep canyons for our children to climb out of. Our representatives, on both sides of the isle, do not represent us, they represent the lobbyists.This blog is not to give answers, but to make people think. I believe the more we think about our ideas the better they will become; as opposed to becoming more and more intrenched in far left or right wing brainwash, where it seems nobody thinks anymore. I hope y'all enjoy.

Posted on October 4, 2011, in Constitutional Law, Patriotslog Articles, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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