Along for the Ride: GPS and the Fourth Amendment

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Stephen A. Josey · 14 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 161

Abstract

With the advent of new technologies, the line as to where the Fourth Amendment forbids certain police behavior and when it does not has become increasingly blurred. Recently, the issue of whether police may use Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking devices to track individuals for prolonged periods of time without first securing a search warrant has crept its way into the limelight. The various circuits have arrived at different conclusions, and the question has now found its way onto the US Supreme Court’s docket.

After analyzing and weighing both Supreme Court caselaw and public policy considerations, this Note concludes that the D.C. Circuit’s “Mosaic Theory”—that the collection of discreet trips in a vehicle tells more than any individual movement, and therefore is protected by the Fourth Amendment—is misguided and strays from the Supreme Court’s analysis in United States v. Knotts. Rather, existing caselaw and policy considerations better support the Ninth and Seventh Circuits’ rulings that GPS tracking does not fall within Fourth Amendment protection. The question remains as to how the Supreme Court will rule on the issue and where the Court will draw the line between privacy concerns and police needs with regards to the increasing role of surveillance technology.