The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was drafted by the Framers to protect the right to be free from governmental intrusion. Without a warrant and probable cause, an officer may not enter a home and search it. The use of GPS technology, however, enables the government to collect the same information without ever leaving the office. Thus, GPS based surveillance presents the issue of what protection the Fourth Amendment offers.
Current Fourth Amendment jurisprudence offers little protection from warrantless surveillance. Under current precedent, the whole issue of monitoring turns on whether the surveillance is done in a private or public place. Thus, the Supreme Court has held that warrantless beeper monitoring is permissible on a public highway, but not inside a private residence.
This note will examine a related issue decided in United States v. Maynard. In Maynard, police placed a GPS device on the defendant’s jeep and used it to track his movements for 28 days. After departing from established precedent, the court held that police violated the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights. The D.C. Circuit’s holding is questionable because it misconstrues existing Fourth Amendment precedent and replaces it with an unworkable constitutional standard.
The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures and imposes both a particularity and probable cause requirement for issuing warrants. Warrantless searches are presumptively unreasonable, subject only to a few limited exceptions. In the context of surveillance, the threshold issue is whether a search has occurred.
A precise definition for the term “search” does not exist under current feder...
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...ish uniform surveillance tactics. Moreover, the prolonged use of visual surveillance and government informants are called into question. Unfortunately, the only clarity present in the new standard is that monitoring a suspect on a single trip is constitutional.
Advances in technology presents a court with the difficult task of having to balance between privacy and security concerns. Existing Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, however, provides needed guidance. Instead of ignoring the existing framework, Judge Ginsburg should have consulted its guidance to deal with the issues posed by GPS monitoring. Certainly, existing Fourth Amendment precedent presents a better solution than creating an entirely new constitutional standard. By creating such a standard, Judge Ginsburg reduced the clarity that police officers need to investigate crimes.
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