The Supreme Court ruled unanimously today on a “major victory for privacy”  in the case of U.S. v. Jones. The court ruled that the government violated the Fourth Amendment when they attached a GPS to a car—without a search warrant—to track the movements of Antoine Jones. This round-the-clock surveillance allowed government officials to note repeated visits to a particular location, ultimately leading to a conviction for charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine—and a life-in-prison sentence for Jones.

The court ruled that the government’s activity constituted a search. Rather than establishing probable cause and then issuing a warrant, the government worked to create probable cause.

In addition to warrantless searches, the court's judgment also relied upon notions of reasonable expectations of privacy when dealing with information disclosed to third parties (e.g. cell phone companies, internet service providers, global position service providers, etc.). Justice Sotomayor said, “I would ask whether people reasonably expect that their movements will be recorded and aggregated in a manner that enables the government to ascertain, more or less at will, their political and religious beliefs, sexual habits, and so on.”

The ACLU made a similar note in the friend-of-the-court brief we filed on this case, paying particular attention to the fact that, “With technology that is already available, the police could monitor the movements of all members of disfavored political organizations, or all congregants at particular places of worship.”

This case is particularly significant because it is the first time the Supreme Court has had to consider the constitutionality of location-tracking technology. This decision will likely influence upcoming laws on cell-phone tracking. To help ensure that the Supreme Court’s decision is enforced, contact Congress today and ask them to support pending legislation that would protect Americans’ cell phone location data from being obtained by law enforcement without a warrant.