Conducting Surveillance and Collecting Location Data in a Post-Carpenter World, Part II

This post is the second in a series examining the impact of Carpenter v. United States, 585 U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct 2206 (2018) on electronic surveillance and the obtaining of location and other types of information from third parties. The first post in this series summarized post-Carpenter decisions relating to surveillance by pole camera and tower dumps. This post examines post-Carpenter rulings on the obtaining of real-time surveillance information through satellite-based Global Positioning System data (GPS) or cell site location information (CSLI). The last post in this series will examine the use of cell site simulators and the obtaining of other information about a person’s on-line activities or accounts from third parties.

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New Bill Proposes GPS Tracking of Domestic Violence Offenders

A bill has been introduced in the legislature that would allow for GPS tracking of domestic violence offenders. Has that been tried elsewhere? Would it be constitutional? Would it open the door to tracking other types of people? This post tackles those questions.

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Authentication and GPS Tracking

I’ve had more and more questions about introducing GPS tracking data in criminal trials. When I think about digital evidence, I think about authentication as the first hurdle. This post summarizes the law regarding the authentication of GPS data. GPS data may come into criminal cases in several ways: because law enforcement placed a tracking … Read more

Testimony about Tracking

More and more criminal cases involve electronic tracking. Sometimes the defendant is tracked using GPS, other times using cell site location information. Either way, interesting evidentiary questions arise. May an officer who knows how to use a tracking device testify about tracking, even if she doesn’t know much about how the underlying technology works? Who … Read more

The Supreme Court on GPS Tracking: U.S. v. Jones

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court decided United States v. Jones, the important GPS tracking case I previously blogged about here. (The case was captioned United States v. Maynard at that time.) In brief, Washington, DC officers suspected that the defendant was a drug dealer. They wanted to track his movements, so they obtained a … Read more

United States Supreme Court to Review GPS Tracking Case?

Remember United States v. Maynard, 615 F.3d 544 (D.C. Cir. 2010)? That’s the drug case in which the D.C. Circuit held that “prolonged GPS monitoring [of a suspect] defeats an expectation of privacy that our society recognizes as reasonable,” and therefore typically requires a warrant. I blogged about Maynard here. The circuit court subsequently denied rehearing en banc by a divided vote. United States v. Jones, 625 F.3d 766 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (en banc).

On Friday, the Department of Justice filed this petition for certiorari, asking the United States Supreme Court to review the case. The question presented by the petition is “whether the warrantless use of a tracking device on petitioner’s vehicle to monitor its movements on public streets violated the Fourth Amendment.” (As an aside, the question contains an embarrassing mistake, which I identify after the break. Think about it for a minute before you click — you already have enough information to catch it yourself.)

Here is the introduction to, and summary of, the section of the petition that argues for the necessity of Supreme Court review:

The decision of the court of appeals conflicts with this Court’s longstanding precedent that a person traveling on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another, even if “scientific enhancements” allow police to observe this public information more efficiently. See United states v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 276, 282-284 (1983). The decision also creates a square conflict among the courts of appeals. The Seventh and Ninth Circuits have correctly concluded that prolonged GPS monitoring of a vehicle’s movements on public roads is not a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The Eighth Circuit, in rejecting a challenge to GPS tracking, stated that a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his public movements, and it upheld tracking for a reasonable period based on reasonable suspicion. At a minimum, if GPS tracking were (incorrectly) deemed a search, the tracking in this case was likewise reasonable.

Prompt resolution of this conflict is critically important to law enforcement efforts throughout the United States. The court of appeals’ decision seriously impedes the government’s use of GPS devices at the beginning stages of an investigation when officers are gathering evidence to establish probable cause and provides no guidance on the circumstances under which officers must obtain a warrant before placing a GPS device on a vehicle. Given the potential application of the court of appeals’ “aggregation” theory to other, non-GPS forms of surveillance, this Court’s intervention is also necessary to preserve the government’s ability to collect public information during criminal investigations without fear that the evidence will later be suppressed because the investigation revealed “too much” about a person’s private life. Because the question presented in this case is important, and because the court of appeals’ decision is wrong, this Court should intervene to resolve the conflict.

Perhaps the Court will prefer to let the issue percolate more in the lower courts, but there are quite a few opinions on point already, and the Court very often grants petitions by the government, so it seems to me that there’s a pretty good chance that the Court will agree to hear the case. I hope it does. It’s an interesting and important issue. You can read a little more about the petition and the case here, here, and here. And don’t forget to check the jump to see if you correctly identified the embarrassing mistake in the question presented.

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News Roundup

Several stories of interest to readers of this blog have appeared over the last several days.  First, the Winston-Salem Journal, in an editorial available here, is asking the General Assembly to take a close look at the death penalty, and to impose a moratorium while it does so.  Of course, as the editorial notes, we … Read more

GPS Tracking for Domestic Violence Offenders?

An interesting article in the New York Times, available here, talks about the increasing use of GPS tracking in domestic violence cases, either as a condition of pretrial release or as part of a probationary sentence.  The story indicates that twelve states have passed legislation designed to enable the use of GPS in such cases.  … Read more

State v. Wooten and Satellite Monitoring of Sex Offenders

Like about half the states, North Carolina monitors certain sex offenders by satellite. The General Assembly first enacted our satellite-based monitoring (SBM) program in 2006, requiring lifetime monitoring of recidivists, aggravated offenders, and sexually violent predators, and monitoring for a period of years determined by the court for offenders whose crime involved the physical, mental, … Read more