No More GPS Tracking Without Warrant?

• Supreme Court rules rogue use of electronic tracking devices violates 4th Amendment

By Keith Johnson

Many are celebrating a recent decision by the Supreme Court, which ruled that law enforcement must get a warrant before attaching a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) device to a vehicle for the purpose of tracking someone. But Tom Goldstein, the owner of the popular website, which monitors the Supreme Court, claims this is a misreading of the court’s decision and insists that many questions still remain.

By unanimous vote, the court decided in U.S. vs. Jones that the government’s attachment of a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s vehicle constitutes a “search” under the Fourth Amendment.

But does this mean all police will now be required to get a warrant before attaching a GPS to a car in order to track an individual? That’s a question constitutional scholars are mulling.

“The court’s only holding is that the installation of a GPS monitoring device is a search,” says Goldstein. “That is different from whether it requires a warrant and whether it requires probable cause, as opposed to a lesser standard like reasonable suspicion. The court in Jones did not decide [on] the government’s argument that this ‘search’ [installing the GPS device] did not require a warrant.”


Goldstein further opines that the court’s ruling “strongly suggests that long-term monitoring of that device will require a warrant,” but that short-term monitoring over a period of a day or two might likely be deemed permissible in court.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Supreme Court purposely made a vague ruling that granted law enforcement leeway to continue this unconstitutional practice, particularly in light of other moves by the government—such as the National Defense Authorization Act—that were designed to strip the American people of their constitutional protections from unreasonable search and seizure.

Also, it remains to be seen if the ruling will curtail the use of GPS devices by federal agencies that have been targeting people because of their  political views. In October 2010, 20-year-old Arab student Yasir Afifi found a GPS tracking device on his car and had photos of it posted online. Within 48 hours, half a dozen FBI agents and police appeared at his door demanding that he return their tracking device.

The FBI has not been forthcoming as to why they were following Afifi, but according to his attorney, Zahra Billoo, “He fit the profile—an Arab-American male, young, lives by himself, travels frequently to the Middle East to visit his family.”

A similar thing happened to animal activist Kathy Thomas, who found a GPS monitoring device under her car in 2005. According to published reports, after Ms. Thomas discovered the GPS device, her lawyer called a U.S. attorney to ask about it. The prosecutor reportedly admitted that it belonged to law enforcement and said he wanted it back. When Ms. Thomas refused, the FBI dropped the matter.


Get Shadow Government: How the Secret Global Elite Is Using Surveillance Against You, by Grant R. Jeffrey, a prolific author and Bible scholar who’s sounding the alarm on the growing surveillance state, admonishing Americans to stand up now against an increasingly oppressive government—or face the risk of losing their rights for good.
Keith Johnson is an independent journalist and the editor of “Revolt of the Plebs,” an alternative news website that can be found at