When law enforcement agencies use a Global Positioning System device to track the motor vehicle of a potential suspect, is that a “search” that is subject to constitutional protections under the Fourth Amendment? Or is it comparable to visual inspection of public information that enjoys no such protection?
The Supreme Court has not ruled on the subject, and lower courts have issued a range of opinions in different cases, according to a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service that carefully delineated the issues.
“Depending on how one reads the courts’ decisions, one could conclude that there is a split in the courts regarding whether law enforcement must first obtain a warrant before using a GPS device. Conversely, one could also conclude that the courts’ decisions are reconcilable and that the outcomes of the cases are fact-sensitive.”
A copy of the CRS report was obtained by Secrecy News. See “Law Enforcement Use of GPS Devices to Monitor Motor Vehicles: Fourth Amendment Considerations,” February 28, 2011.
Some other new or newly updated CRS products include these (all pdf):
“Mandatory Vaccinations: Precedent and Current Laws,” February 24, 2011.
“War Powers Resolution: Presidential Compliance,” February 3, 2011.