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Supreme Court: Warrants needed in GPS tracking

The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously restricted the police’s ability to use a GPS device to track criminal suspects in a first test of how privacy rights will be protected in the digital age.

The court rejected the government’s view that long-term surveillance of a suspect by GPS tracking is no different than traditional, low-tech forms of monitoring. But its decision was nuanced and incremental, leaving open the larger questions of how government may use the information generated by modern technology for surveillance purposes.

Still, the decision reversing the conviction of suspected D.C. drug kingpin Antoine Jones was a “landmark ruling in applying the Fourth Amendment’s protections to advances in surveillance technology,” said Washington lawyer Andrew Pincus, who filed a brief on Jones’s behalf.

The court without dissent agreed that prosecutors violated Jones’s rights when they attached a GPS device to his Jeep and monitored his movements for 28 days. In one of the Washington region’s most celebrated drug trials, the nightclub owner was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

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