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GPS Inventor to Supreme Court: Stop Warrantless GPS Tracking

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 13, 2011 4:02 PM

James Bond received hundreds of gadgets from tech-wizard Q throughout his fictional existence. Whether exploding toothpaste, or a belt-buckle zip line, Bond knew that each invention was created to enable his spy missions.

But what if Bond employed one of Q's inventions for an off-label use? What if Q objected? Should Bond listen?

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in U.S. v. Jones for November 8. The case, an appeal from the D.C. Circuit, raises the question of whether the police need a warrant to install a tracking device to monitor a vehicle's movements on public streets.

Roger Easton, the principal inventor of the Global Positioning System (GPS), joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology last week in filing an amicus brief in U.S. v. Jones, urging the Court to reject the government's position that warrantless GPS tracking can be used on suspects.

In the appeal before the Supreme Court, the Obama administration is arguing that GPS-technology in Jones is analogous to "bird dog" beepers in the 1983 U.S. v. Knotts decision, in which the Court found that the government did not need a warrant to attach a "bird dog" to a suspect's vehicle.

Easton, EFF, and CDT claim that GPS technology should be distinguished from bird dog beepers because bird dogs require human surveillance, while "GPS tracking is an automated process wholly divorced from human observation," reports Wired.

In their brief, Easton and company argue that GPS tracking infringes individuals' reasonable privacy expectations, similar to the thermal imaging technology discussed in Kyllo v. U.S. While we agree with Easton that warrantless GPS tracking violates the Fourth Amendment, we think GPS surveillance is more akin to wiretapping than thermal imaging technology or bird dogs (either the canine or electronic versions).

Now that "Q" has spoken; will "Bond" be forced to listen? Will the Supreme Court (M) allow warrantless GPS installation?

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