Jacqui Cheng
Ars Technica.com
August 7, 2010

Police cannot surreptitiously stick a GPS unit on your car and track your movements without a warrant, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled. In an opinion published Friday, the court said that police use of GPS evidence to convict two individuals was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, and that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to their movements over an extended period of time.

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Warrantless GPS tracking has always been a contentious issue, with supporters arguing that an individual can make similar observations about the location of your car just by driving around town and noting that you’re at home, you’re at the grocery store, you’re at the strip club, and so on.

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Detractors, which include the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that it’s one thing to note someone’s car location and another to keep hourly data on every single stop you make along a specific route for days or months on end.

In this particular case, two nightclub owners, Antoine Jones and Lawrence Maynard, had been convicted on narcotics charges in part due to police-collected GPS data. Police had planted* the GPS unit on a car that was parked on private property, then tracked its whereabouts for a month. The government argued that the suspects had no reasonable expectation of privacy because their movements took place out in public.

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