Supreme Court Argues Letting Cops Track Cars With GPS Will Send Us All Into 1984

Justice Breyer

The Supreme Court’s attempts to reconcile the principles of the Constitution with modern-day technology the founding fathers would likely have found unfathomable has led to some laughable arguments in the past. But this one took a turn for the paranoiac—perhaps rightfully so.

The court has yet to decide on the case of Antoine Jones, a nightclub owner in Washington who was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to sell cocaine. The evidence for his conviction was a GPS device police placed in his Jeep Grand Cherokee without the proper warrant to track his movements for a month. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit overturned the conviction claiming the amount of information collected violated Fourth Amendment rights protecting unlawful search and seizure.

As The New York Times points out, the arguments in favor of allowing tracking were rather extremist:

“But Michael R. Dreeben, a deputy United States solicitor general, said there were no constitutional limits to the government’s ability to track people’s movements in public. He said a device surreptitiously attached to clothing would be permissible so long as it did not convey information from inside a home. He added that the police could track the movements of the justices’ cars without a warrant.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg paraphrased the government’s argument thusly: “an electronic device, as long as it’s not used inside the house, is O.K.”

Mr. Dreeben allowed for the possibility that different statutes might apply to cars, but it was enough to send Justice Stephen Breyer back to high school English.

That means, Justice Stephen G. Breyer told Mr. Dreeben, that “if you win this case, then there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States.” And that, Justice Breyer said, “sounds like ‘1984.’ ”

The other justices took the opportunity to pile on the Big Brother scenarios:

Justice Sonia Sotomayor indicated that the scenario might have already arrived. “It wouldn’t take that much of a budget, local budget, to place a GPS on every car in the nation,” she said.

Dun-dun! Okay, everyone get off the internet and go check your glove compartments.

Supreme Court Argues Letting Cops Track Cars With GPS Will Send Us All Into 1984