Privacy Law

Judges Cite Orwell in Opinions on GPS Tracking of Suspects; Issue Goes to Supreme Court


George Orwell is enjoying a surge in popularity in judicial opinions considering GPS and cellphone tracking of criminal suspects.

The New York Times notes that Orwell’s novel 1984 is being referenced more often as judges are asked to decide whether such tracking violates the Fourth Amendment. “1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it’s here at last,” wrote Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco.

Other judges citing or referring to Orwell are Diane Wood of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Chicago and Nicholas Garaufis of the federal court in Brooklyn.

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider the constitutional questions when it hears oral arguments in November in United States v. Jones. At issue is whether police need a warrant to attach a GPS device to a suspect’s vehicle and track his movements.

Appeals courts are divided on the issue, the Times says. The 7th and 9th Circuits have allowed police to use GPS devices without a warrant. But, ruling in the Jones case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the conviction of accused cocaine dealer Antoine Jones because police did not get a warrant before attaching a GPS device to his vehicle.

According to the Times, the decision in Jones “will bring Fourth Amendment law into the digital age, addressing how its 18th-century prohibition of ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ applies to a world in which people’s movements are continuously recorded by devices in their cars, pockets and purses, by toll plazas and by transit systems.”

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