By Tom Rhodes, 1/23/2012
In a unanimous decision Monday the Supreme court ruled that the police must obtain a warrant before attaching a GPS tracker to person's vehicle. This is evidence that contrary to all available evidence there are limits to government power and authority. This case tested the boundaries of how far government can go in using new technologies to monitor the whereabouts of the people.
The plain language of the 4th Amendment is clear. It states "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
The mere fact that the government would consider adding a device of any kind to a person's private property to monitor anything without probable cause is a clear indication that, on the whole, the government no-longer considers a person's private property to be of consequence. The government didn't argue that placing a GPS device on a person's car wasn't a violation of rights, but argued that attaching the tiny device to a car's undercarriage was too trivial a violation of property rights to matter, and that no one who drove in public streets could expect his movements to go unmonitored. Thus, the technique was "reasonable," meaning that police were free to employ it for any reason without first justifying it to a magistrate, the government said. To the government your rights are "trivial."
Justice Antonin Scalia writing for the majority concluded that the Fourth Amendment's protection of "persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" extends to private property such as an automobile.
Justice Samuel Alito split from fellow conservatives holding that the search violated not just property rights, but also individual's "reasonable expectation of privacy." The same justification the court has used since 1967, when it held that warrants were required before police could wiretap a call made from a public telephone booth because "the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places." He warned that a property-based approach was too narrow to guard against the proliferating threats to personal privacy modern technology posed.
It is nice to see that the SCOTUS in some cases still protects the rights of the people over the government. Too bad the SCOTUS isn't consistent in protecting our property rights from search and seizure, they still accept the idea that any cash you have is the government's unless you can prove that cash didn't commit a crime. Without probable cause nor evidence nor due process, if you carry cash it can be confiscated as drug money. Monday's decision should be celebrated as a good step in the right direction, but we still have too many laws that put the government's "interests" above the rights of the people.