By a 2-1 vote, the U.S. Sixth District Court of Appeals has ruled that police do not need to obtain a warrant in order to gather GPS data on suspects. The case being ruled on involved Melvin Skinner, who was arrested on suspicion of taking part in a cross-country drug trafficking operations.
Skinner had appealed his many convictions: conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute over 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, conspiracy to commit money laundering, aiding and abetting the attempt to distribute in excess of 100 kilograms of marijuana. His attorneys argued that the government’s use of his GPS location information from his phone, which led to his arrest, constituted a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The court said that since Skinner was using a phone that gave off a signal, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. The court also differentiated between the information stored on the phone, i.e., the contents of the conversations that took place using the phone, and the data of the phone’s movements.
Privacy groups are complaining that without a warrant, there is insufficient due process to justify surveillance and way too much surveillance could be taking place.