While innovations in technology arrive with lightning speed, the wheels of justice have a difficult time keeping pace. GPS tracking is the issue that’s currently presenting some thorny situations for our court system. The Supreme Court recently weighed in on the government’s use of GPS devices, declaring it a form of search-and-seizure that is covered by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
The case that prompted the decision was Torrey Dale Grady vs. North Carolina. Grady was a two-time convicted sex offender who in 2013 was ordered by the state to wear a GPS monitor at all times. Grady challenged the decision in a lawsuit on the grounds that it qualified as an unreasonable search.
While the highest court in North Carolina ruled that GPS tracking does not constitute a search, the Supreme Court cited a number of precedents when reversing the decision and returning the case to the North Carolina courts. In 2012 they issued a ruling against placing a GPS device on a suspect’s car without a warrant. The next year they made a similar decision concerning the use of drug-sniffing dogs on private property.
Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), agrees with the decision. The EFF is now considering similar cases in Wisconsin and other states that require mandatory GPS tracking for convicted sex offenders. According to Lynch, her position is that these individuals have served their time, thereby fulfilling their debt to society.
When it comes to legal decisions regarding electronic geo-locational information, this is only the tip of the iceberg. To date, the Supreme Court has heard only cases involving GPS tracking. Smartphones and electronic toll-collection systems are only a few of the numerous devices that collect such data.
Lynch believes that the Court is well aware that they will be facing these questions in the future. While the Grady decision was unanimous, there is some difference of opinion among the justices on the matter of electronic data-gathering and the Fourth Amendment, which could signal a rocky road ahead.
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