Abdication of Judicial Authority in the Age of Technology
by, 10-10-2010 at 02:09 PM (954 Views)
In the wake of a recent ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declaring that it’s legal for law enforcement to secretly use tracking devices on a suspect’s car without a warrant, even if the car is parked in a private driveway, a recent discovery by a student in California raises new privacy issues related to modern technology. In a similar case, however, the D.C. Circuit Court came to a different conclusion, meaning that a Supreme Court showdown over law enforcement’s use of GPS technologies may be coming in the near future.
From The International Business Times
The Justice Department is demanding a federal appeals court rehear a case in which it reversed the conviction and life sentence of a cocaine dealer whose vehicle was tracked via GPS for a month, without a court warrant. The authorities then obtained warrants to search and find drugs in the locations where defendant Antoine Jones had travelled. The administration, in urging the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reverse a three-judge panel’s August ruling from the same court, said that Americans should expect no privacy while in public.Originally Posted by International Business Times
“The panel’s conclusion that Jones had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the public movements of his Jeep rested on the premise that an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the totality of his or her movements in public places, ” Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Smith wrote the court in a petition for rehearing.
The case is an important test of privacy rights as GPS devices have become a common tool in crime fighting, and can be affixed to moving vehicles by an officer shooting a dart. Three other circuit courts have already said the authorities do not need a warrant for GPS vehicle tracking.
The circuit’s ruling means that, in the District of Columbia area, the authorities need a warrant to install a GPS-tracking device on a vehicle. But in much of the United States, including the West, a warrant is not required. Unless the circuit changes its mind, only the Supreme Court can mandate a uniform rule. The government said the appellate panel’s August decision is “vague and unworkable” and undermines a law enforcement practice used “with great frequency.”
The legal dispute centers on a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning a tracking beacon affixed to a container, without a court warrant, to follow a motorist to a secluded cabin. The appeals court said that decision did not apply to today’s GPS monitoring of a suspect, which lasted a month. The beacon tracked a person, “from one place to another,” whereas the GPS device monitored Jones’ “movements 24 hours a day for 28 days.”
In the past such monitoring of an individual’s movements required expensive surveillance and the allocation of multiple assets. Today however, at least in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals jurisdiction, all that is required is for someone to sneak into your driveway and deposit a tracking device onto your car. More accurate tracking could be accomplished through cell phone tracking, but phone companies have been adamant about requiring a subpoena or warrant signed by a judge to give up such information. This backdoor tracking of motor vehicles requires no such process or interaction with a judge.
The judicial branch of the United States government exists to protect the citizen from the executive branch of the government, the phrase ‘innocent until proven guilty’ was written to emphasize that very point. There has always been a very fine line between protecting the public safety and a citizen’s right to privacy, but it is up to the courts and judges to decide where that line is – and when to cross it. If a law enforcement agency believes that there is enough evidence to warrant placement of a GPS tracking device, why should law enforcement find it a burden to obtain a judges signature?
Allowing the executive branch, law enforcement, to decide when it is appropriate to affix a GPS monitoring device to a vehicle is a dangerous abdication of judicial authority and grossly negligent. This sort of abdication of judicial authority is exactly the kind of decision that leads to abuses of authority by law enforcement and is precisely why the founding fathers established a strong judicial system in the first place – to protect the citizens from the government.