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Supreme Court rules police must obtain warrant to use GPS tracking devices, but what about the camera at the traffic light around the corner?

A screen shot of the Google Earth application on Google's Nexus One smartphone.
A screen shot of the Google Earth application on Google's Nexus One smartphone.
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In the case of the "United States v. Antoine Jones" – a D.C. night club owner suspected of distributing narcotics – the easy decision has been made. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that attaching a GPS tracking device to a suspect’s car constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment and therefore requires a warrant.

Unfortunately for the FBI-police task force in the case of Antoine Jones, they had a warrant, but it expired before the tracking device landed on Jones’ car. The data tracing Jones’ movements to and from his stash house must now be thrown out. What was “easy” about this decision was having, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor put it, the government’s “physical intrusion on Jones’ Jeep” to rule on. “People reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the court of carrying out mundane tasks,” Sotomayor writes.


What if the government had chosen to make its case based on satellite programs like Google Earth or pictures taken at traffic lights? What are our rights and expectations for privacy in the 21st century, and how much are we comfortable giving away in order to convict those that abuse the system?


David Savage, Supreme Court reporter for the Los Angeles Times