Supreme Court Privacy Ruling Is About More Than GPS Tracking

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that attaching a GPS tracker to your car amounts to a search, and therefore law-enforcement officers must get a warrant before they can do it. Read deeper, though, and it seems the justices are taking a fresh look at what privacy means in the digital age.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds
Popular Mechanics

…In a majority opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court found that attaching something to a person’s car is a trespass upon that person’s property. The Fourth Amendment protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” and a car, in essence, is an “effect.” Although previous cases involving issues such as phone-tapping have turned on “reasonable expectations of privacy,” the court held that when the government trespasses on your property, that is a search. And in the absence of a warrant, a search is presumed unreasonable. (The government tried to argue that this search was reasonable even without a warrant, but the court held that it had forfeited this argument by failing to raise it earlier.)

Before Jones, a number of lower courts had said that a GPS tracker isn’t an invasion of your privacy when you’re driving on public roads. (Personally, I’ve always been skeptical of that. I suspect that if, say, I attached a GPS tracker to a prosecutor’s car, they’d find a way to charge me with something.) But now it’s clear that trespassing on someone’s property—even “personal” property like a car as opposed to “real” property like a house—is a search and will usually require a warrant. Such warrants aren’t that hard to get, of course, but the process does impose some extra discipline upon law enforcement.

But here’s the really interesting, though subtler, result of Jones: Although the court didn’t really rule on this issue in the case, five justices signaled sympathy with the “mosaic” theory of privacy raised by the intermediate Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The mosiac theory holds that aggregating lots of pieces of information about an individual that in themselves may be harmless may nonetheless, taken as a whole, constitute a search—even if all the data is public…

The entire article is at Popular Mechanics.

H/T Althouse

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