By Robert Barnes, Updated: Monday, January 23, 12:32 PM
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the government needed a valid warrant before attaching a GPS device to the Jeep used by D.C. drug kingpin Antoine Jones, who was convicted in part because police tracked his movements on public roads for 28 days.
“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search’ ” under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, Scalia wrote.
All justices agreed with the outcome of the case, which affirmed a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that said evidence of Jones’ s frequent trips to a stash house where drugs and nearly $1 million in cash were found must be thrown out.
The police had obtained a warrant for GPS surveillance of Jones, but it expired before they attached the device to his car.
But there was a significant split on the court about whether Monday’s decision went far enough.
Scalia’s majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor, said the electronic surveillance, if achieved without having to physically trespass on Jones’s property, may have been “an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.”
But Scalia added: “The present case does not require us to answer that question.”
It was that question — society’s expectation of privacy in a modern world — that had animated the court’s consideration of the case. In an intense hour-long oral argument last November, the Big Brother of George Orwell’s novel “1984” was referenced six times.