At first blush United States v. Jones is an important victory for the Fourth Amendment because it reaffirms the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Court held that the Government’s planting of a GPS device onto a Jeep constituted a “search.” Antoine Jones, a nightclub owner, was convicted in Washington DC of dealing drugs. Much of the evidence used to obtain his conviction (2,000 pages to be exact) was procured from a GPS that had been planted to the bumper of his wife’s car.
The decision is important principally because it re-affirms an enormously important principle articulated by Justice Harlan in Katz v. United States, which states that the Fourth Amendment protects people not places and as such a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy.” It was thought before cases like Katz that the Fourth Amendment’s protections extended to places…homes, private residences, etc (arising from the idea of trespass).
Yet the opinion itself is far more interesting than the ruling of the case because the Court’s dicta (outside the ruling on the matter at hand) raises some profound issues. The first of these is that it addresses how a person’s reasonable privacy expectations need to be defined by the Legislature in light of how technology has affected our lives. There has been a shift in the balance of power between the governed and the State.
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