The U.S. Supreme Court has just weighed in on the privacy implications of GPS tracking. In its ruling on Torrey Dale Grady v. North Carolina, the panel of nine judges unanimously agreed that attaching a GPS tracker to you or your car constitutes a search, and thus a warrant is required to do so.
Grady, a twice-convicted sex offender, was required by North Carolina to wear a GPS-monitoring device at all times. He sued the state, arguing that the constant GPS tracking is a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, as it constitutes a search. The court, citing its past legal precedents, agreed.
Pro-privacy groups are in full agreement with the ruling. “It doesn’t matter what the context is, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a car or a person. Putting that tracking device on a car or a person is a search,” states Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney Jennifer Lynch.
It’s worth noting that this case specifically concerns the use of tracking devices by law enforcement. It doesn’t necessarily create protections for the other arenas of our lives where big data reveals our location for us. Smartphone are capable of being traced, for example, and courts have held that it OK for law enforcement to use this data against you without first obtaining a search warrant for it. Many legal analysts expect the high court to address this privacy issue, too, eventually.
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