Appeals court OKs warrantless GPS tracking by feds

Federal panel upholds lower court decision that federal DEA agents can enter private property sans warrant to plant GPS devices

A California federal court's decision not to call an en barc hearing on whether government agents can attach GPS tracking devices to vehicles parked in private driveways is likely to be appealed in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit earlier this month declined to schedule an en banc hearing, or a hearing before all judges in the ninth circuit, as requested by the defendant in a drug-related case. The defendant was seeking to suppress evidence gathered against him by federal agents who attached a GPS device to his vehicle without first obtaining a warrant.

The defendant, Juan Pineda-Moreno of Oregon, claims that U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search by planting, without a warrant, a tracking device on a vehicle parked in his driveway in 2007. The agents were tracking Pineda-Moreno on suspicion that he belonged to a marijuana growing operation.

A three-judge panel of the appellate court in January rejected Pineda-Moreno's claims and ruled that his constitutional rights were not violated. The court this month rejected a petition by Pineda-Moreno for a rehearing of his case by the full Ninth Circuit panel of judges.

The appellate court's ruling essentially gives law enforcement agencies in the nine Western states under the Ninth Circuit's jurisdiction the legal authority to surreptitiously enter personal property and attach a GPS tracking device on vehicles parked there without first obtaining a warrant.

Over a four month period, DEA agents repeatedly monitored Pineda-Moreno's movements using different GPS tracking devices without obtaining a warrant. On two occasions, agents sneaked into his driveway before dawn to affix the tracking devices to the undercarriage of his Jeep.

Information gathered from the tracking led to Pineda-Moreno's subsequent arrest and indictment.

Pineda-Moreno pleaded guilty to the charges in an Oregon district court on the condition that he would be allowed to appeal the ruling to the Ninth Circuit court. The district court had rejected his request that the evidence obtained from the GPS devices be suppressed.

A three-judge Ninth Circuit panel of judges upheld the district court's ruling.

The decision was not unanimous. In a strongly worded dissent, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said that because of the ruling, "1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it's here at last."

In the 10-page ruling, two of the Ninth Circuit judges held that the DEA agents did not violate Pineda-Moreno's constitutional rights. The judges ruled that because Pineda-Moreno's had not taken specific steps to exclude passersby from his driveway -- by installing a gate por posting no trespassing signs, for instance -- he could not claim reasonable privacy expectations.

The Ninth Circuit panel ruled that the actions by the agents were comparable to the delivery of newspapers to the house, or the retrieval of a ball accidently thrown under the vehicle by a neighbor.

Dissenting Judge Kozinski, however, contended that most people in the U.S don't expect that a car parked in their driveway "invites people to crawl under it and attach a [tracking] device. There is something creepy and un-American about such clandestine and underhanded behavior."

The Ninth Circuit's refusal to rehear the case highlights the continuing struggles that courts around the country are having over law enforcement's use of GPS devices to track an individual's movements.

In a decision also made earlier this month, an appeals court in Washington D.C denied the government's claims to warrantless GPS tracking. In that case, the judges hearing the case ruled that while warrantless GPS tracking might be permissible under some circumstance, continuous tracking over extended periods of time constituted a violation of Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags governmentmobileregulationtelecommunicationMobile and WirelessGov't LegislationGov't Legislation/RegulationGovernment/Industries

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?