Joshua A. Engel


GPS tracking devices have become inexpensive, small, and can easily be attached to a vehicle quickly. Law enforcement is increasingly using these devices to track the exact location of a suspect's vehicle over a long period of time. In most instances, relying on Supreme Court cases from the early 1980's, law enforcement has not sought a warrant before using these devices. This paper examines how courts have attempted to apply Supreme Court precedents based on "primitive" tracking devices to modern GPS tracking devices. These precedents established that the use of electronic tracking devices on vehicles did not constitute a search and, accordingly, did not implicate the Fourth Amendment because people do not have a reasonable privacy interest in the movement of their vehicles when traveling on a public roadway. Until recently, federal courts have, on the basis on these decisions, almost universally upheld the use of GPS tracking devices. In contrast, state courts have been more reluctant to follow these Supreme Court precedents. A recent decision by the D.C. Circuit Court should cause future courts to re-examine the application of the prior Supreme Court precedents. In this decision, the federal court recognized that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the totality of their movements over the course of a period of time. The paper concludes that the approach taken by the D. C. Circuit is most consistent with the Supreme Court's Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, because sustained and long-term surveillance of a targeted individual unrelated to any particular criminal action violates a reasonable expectation ofprivacy.