Archive | GPS Surveillance

Third Circuit Requires Warrant for GPS Monitoring and Limits Good-Faith Exception in United States v. Katzin

Today the Third Circuit handed down United States v. Katzin, an important cases on three related issues of Fourth Amendment law: first, whether the installation of a GPS device requires a warrant; second, the scope of the Davis good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule; and third, who has standing to suppress the evidence from the physical search of a car following a GPS search.

The divided court ruled in the defendants’ favor on all three issues. First, installation of a GPS device requires a warrant; second, the Davis good-faith exception applies only when there was directly on-point binding appellate precedent allowing the government’s acts; and third, every passenger in the car at the time it is stopped has standing to challenge the fruits of the subsequent physical search. There’s a lot in the Katzin case, so I thought I would blog on the three issues and offer my perspective on them.

I. The Facts

The police were tracking a string of burglaries at Rite-Aid pharmacies across several states, and they came to have very strong suspicion that Katzin and his two brothers were committing the burglaries using Katzin’s van. The police found the van one day, so they called the local U.S. Attorney’s Office. The prosecutors at the office advised them that they could put the GPS device on without a warrant. (This was December 2010, before the Supreme Court’s GPS decision in Jones.) The police attached the GPS device on the car when it was parked on a public road. The device allowed the police to monitor the location of the car in real-time remotely. The GPS device quickly paid off: Just several days after placing the GPS device on the car, the GPS showed the car parked for a few hours right next to a Rite-Aid [...]

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Responding to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Probable Cause and Standing to Challenge GPS Searches

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has asked for amici help in two pending cases about the Fourth Amendment and GPS surveillance:

In these cases involving co-defendants, the issue presented, among others, is whether an affidavit demonstrated sufficient probable cause in support of an application for a warrant secretly to attach a GPS device to a motor vehicle and to monitor tracking information; whether a passenger has standing to challenge the evidence seized as a result of such monitoring; whether a passenger in a vehicle to which a GPS device is attached is either “seized” or “searched” to the same extent as the driver or the vehicle itself.

On the first question, probable cause, I gather there is a preliminary issue of whether a warrant or probable cause is required to install the GPS device. There is litigation pending on that issue in the federal courts — it’s a difficult issue, in my view — although I don’t know if the issue is also being litigated in the Massachusetts case. Assuming that already has been answered in the affirmative or (unfortunately) has been conceded away, the question becomes what kind of probable cause is deemed sufficient. In the case of a Fourth Amendment search, the ordinary kind of probable cause is probable cause to believe that there is particularly described evidence to be seized inside the particularly described place to be searched. I don’t know how this is supposed to work with a GPS warrant, though. In the case of a GPS search, the government isn’t actually looking to search inside the car for evidence. The car is the place where the GPS is installed, and under Jones it is the “place” where the search occurs. But the information sought is outside of that place, not inside it: The government [...]

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Looking into the Record of United States v. Skinner, the Sixth Circuit Phone Location Case

I recently blogged about United States v. Skinner, the new Sixth Circuit decision concluding that the Fourth Amendment does not protect location information obtained from a cell phone. Skinner has been getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere, in part because the facts are so vague, so decided to take a closer look at the case to see what I could learn about the facts in dispute.

Here’s what I learned. First, here’s the first of the two court orders that the government obtained to compel the phone company to reveal location information. It’s one of the “hybrid” orders that DOJ has tried to use (or at least was using as of 2006, the date of the order) that combines several statutory authorities at once — pen trap, 2703(d), subpoena, etc. Putting aside the open question of the legality of such hybrid orders under statutory laws, the important part for Fourth Amendment purposes is what the court order allows the government to do in terms of location information. The order requires the phone company to provide the government with the following:

(This image may not be sizing correctly for some browsers.  If you’re not seeing well, you can view it here.)  As you can see, the order authorizes the government to get both cell-site and GPS information from the phone. So which did the government use when it “pinged” the phone? It’s somewhat hard to tell, because the magistrate judge’s Report and Recommendation refers to both GPS and cell-site and doesn’t focus much on the distinction. At the same time, the fact section of the magistrate judge’s Report and Recommendation refers primarily to GPS information, not cell-site data. Here’s the critical section, available at United States v. Skinner, 2007 WL 1556596 (E.D.Tenn. 2007):

Agent Lewis was given

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More Cases on the Mosaic Theory and The Implications of Jones

The various opinions in United States v. Jones (aka the GPS case) raise tons of fascinating new questions for Fourth Amendment law. I explore some of those issues in a forthcoming article, The Mosaic Theory of the Fourth Amendment, which will appear in the Michigan Law Review and which I hope to post an early draft of soon. In the meantime, here are three cases just from the last week or so on the implications of Jones.

1) United States v. Anderson-Bagshaw, 2012 WL 774964 (N.D.Ohio, March 8, 2012). This case considers whether Jones applies to video surveillance. The defendant was claiming disability benefits while running an alpaca farm. The government installed a camera on a telephone pole adjacent to the defendant’s property and recorded video of the property continuously for 24 days. The video was streamed over the Internet to a federal agent, who watched the video stream 3-5 hours a day and used some of it for evidence at trial. The use of the camera did not trespass on the suspect’s property. Held by District Judge Gwin: The mosaic theory does not apply, because the majority in Jones did not adopt the mosaic theory.

If the majority [in Jones] had adopted a mosaic theory condemning uninterrupted GPS surveillance, and further extended that theory to non-trespassory surveillance, then perhaps a substantial question of law might have been presented as to the constitutionality of the continuously streamed footage. Perhaps then the constitutionality of the 24–day surveillance would be a close question, or one that could go either way. But no such theory was adopted, and the pole camera footage remains soundly within the purview of caselaw reviewed in the Court’s denial of Bagshaw’s motion to suppress and motion to reconsider, under which authority this is not a

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Are Historical Cell-Site Data Protected Under the Fourth Amendment After United States v. Jones?

No, concludes Judge Bennett in United States v. Graham (District of Maryland, March 1, 2012). Judge Bennett concludes that historical cell-site records are not protected because they fall under the third-party doctrine:

Like the bank records at issue in [United States v.] Miller, the historical cell site location records in this case are not the ‘private papers’ of the Defendants—instead, they are the ‘business records’ of the cellular providers. Federal law does not mandate that cellular providers create or maintain this type of data,11 and even courts that have concluded that government acquisition of cumulative cell site location records can violate the Fourth Amendment generally acknowledge that these records are ‘generated in the ordinary course of the provider‘s business.’ In re Application of the United States, 747 F. Supp. 2d 827, 841 (S.D. Tex. 2010) (Smith, Mag. J.), appeal docketed, No. 11-20554 (5th Cir. Dec. 14, 2011). Moreover, insofar as historical cell site records are created and maintained by the cellular providers, individual customers do not generally have access to those records, and could not be expected to produce them in response to a subpoena. Under the reasoning of Miller, therefore, historical cell site location records are the provider‘s business records, and are not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

. . .
Based on clear Supreme Court and Fourth Circuit precedent, this Court finds the third-party doctrine applicable to historical cell site location information. Like the bank records at issue in Miller, the telephone numbers dialed in Smith, and the subscriber information collected in Bynum, historical cell site location records are records created and kept by third parties that are voluntarily conveyed to those third parties by their customers. As part of the ordinary course of business, cellular phone companies collect information that identifies the cellular towers through which

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Does Fourth Amendment Standing Work Differently for Jones Trespass Searches, Traditional Katz Searches, and Long-term Katz Searches?

Over the last forty years, the Supreme Court has worked out a series of principles for when a defendant has standing to object to the Fourth Amendment search of someone else’s property. According to the those cases, the key issue is whether the government violated the defendant’s own reasonable expectation of privacy under the framework introduced by Justice Harlan’s concurring opinion in Katz v. United States. The owner, legitimate renter, or legitimate repeated borrower of a car generally has standing to object to a search of it. A person who steals a car or drives it in violation of a rental contract does not.

In the recent GPS decision of United States v. Jones, however, the Supreme Court introduced — or, depending on how you look at it, reintroduced — two new kinds of Fourth Amendment searches. First, the majority opinion introduced a trespass test for what is a search that supplements the Katz expectation-of-privacy test. Second, to the extent you think it proper to combine the votes of the concurring opinions and consider that an alternative holding, five Justices thought that the cumulative effect of 30 days of monitoring of the car also amounted to a search of the car because it revealed such invasive information about its public location over time.

So here’s the question: Does the standing inquiry developed over the last forty years for Katz expectation–of-privacy searches apply in the same way for Jones trespass searches and Jones long-term expectation of privacy searches? Or is the standing test different?

That isssue arose in a case handed down just a week after Jones: United States v. Hanna, 2012 WL 279435, *1+ (S.D.Fla. Jan 30, 2012) (NO. 11-20678-CR). The police suspected that four men — Hanna, Ransfer, Middleton, and Davis — were involved in [...]

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Jones, the Automobile Exception, and the Warrant Requirement reports that legal experts are divided on whether United States v. Jones requires a warrant to install a GPS device:

Most media reports of the Supreme Court’s decision said the court was requiring police to obtain warrants for attaching GPS devices.

But several experts argued that the court had not in fact ruled that a warrant is now required.

“The court merely held that the installation of the GPS was a Fourth Amendment ‘search,'” George Washington University Professor of Law and computer law expert Orin Kerr wrote on The Volokh Conspiracy website.

“The court declined to reach when the installation of the device is reasonable or unreasonable. So we actually don’t yet know if a warrant is required to install a GPS device; we just know that the installation of the device is a Fourth Amendment ‘search.'”

But other experts have said the court did create a warrant requirement for installing GPS devices. They point to past Supreme Court rulings that held that all Fourth Amendment searches require warrants unless the police action meets a specific and well-delineated exception.

These scholars say that because the court did not create an exception for GPS searches, those intrusions therefore require a warrant.

“Orin Kerr would probably not say that you don’t need a warrant to break down the door of someone’s house,” Priscilla Smith, who is a senior fellow at the Yale Law School Information Society Project, told NewsCore. “He would say you do need one unless one of the exceptions apply. Same is true here.”

Other scholars had views that fell somewhere in between those of Kerr and Smith.

University of Iowa Law School Professor of Law James Tomkovicz told NewsCore that the Supreme Court “dodged” the warrant issue, but said it would be very difficult to persuade courts in

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Why United States v. Jones is Subject to So Many Different Interpretations

If anything is clear from the Supreme Court’s decision last week in United States v. Jones, it’s that not very much is clear from the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Jones. Reading over the commentary on Jones both in the print media and on blogs, I think I’ve seen just about every reaction (at least from enthusiasts of greater privacy, from which the commentariat is almost exclusively drawn). My favorite analysis so far is this new post from Tom Goldstein. I think it’s a real gem. But it’s only one view among many as to what the case means.

Why is Jones such a puzzling decision? I think there are two major reasons. First, Justice Scalia creates a new test for Fourth Amendment searches without being fully candid that he’s doing something quite new. Trespass has long been relevant to the Fourth Amendment search inquiry, to be sure. But the Court never embraced a straight trespass test, and even in the old days deviated from it (see Boyd, McGuire, etc). So this test is new. And yet Scalia writes his opinion as if a well-established trespass test existed that he is returning to, and that returning to it is some sort of obvious step. The disjunct between Scalia’s doctrinal innovation and his apparent incredulity that anyone could find his opinion confusing makes for some very strange reading.

For example, if you want to understand the new trespass test, you mostly have to read the footnotes — especially footnotes 3 and 5, which are responses to Alito’s concurrence. Here, though, Scalia is so dismissive of Alito’s critique that it’s hard to know why Scalia sees Alito’s questions as so obviously answered. Scalia is the one who is introducing a new test; presumably he’s the [...]

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What Makes an Expectation of Privacy “Reasonable”? A Response to Chief Justice Roberts

During the oral argument a few weeks ago in United States v. Jones, Chief Justice Roberts had some very interesting questions about the Fourth Amendment’s “reasonable expectation of privacy” test. I fear that the Chief Justice’s questions may reflect a common misunderstanding of the test. In this post, I wanted to explain the Chief’s possible error, and explain how I think the reasonable expectation of privacy test is supposed to work.

I. The Possible Misunderstanding

The questions that grabbed my attention seemed to assume that the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test asks an empirical question — that a Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy is “reasonable” when reasonable people expect privacy. Just before the relevant exchange, Deputy SG Michael Dreeben had argued that using a GPS device on the suspect’s car could not have infringed the suspect’s reasonable expectation of privacy because it only revealed the suspect’s location in public. The Chief Justice responded:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I give you that, that it’s in public. Does the reasonable expectation of privacy trump that fact? In other words, if we ask people, do you think it’s — it violates your right to privacy to have this kind of information acquired, and everybody says yes, is it a response that, no, that takes place in public, or it simply the reasonable expectation of privacy regardless of the fact that it takes place in public?

MR. DREEBEN: Well, something that takes place in public isn’t inherently off limits to a reasonable expectation of privacy. That’s essentially the holding of Katz. You go into a phone booth, you’re in a public; making your calls within the phone booth is subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy. But this Court, with full awareness of that holding, in Knotts and in Karo recognized that surveillance of

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The Two Questions of Jones, and the Potential Difficulty of Identifying the Proper Voting Rule

The Justices of the Supreme Court will meet soon to offer preliminary votes in United States v. Jones, the GPS case. We don’t know what the voting alignment will look like: The votes are hard to predict. But it seems to me that there’s a substantial chance that the Court’s opinions might face a puzzling problem of figuring out which voting rule applies. I wanted to explain a bit about why I think that, and why it might matter.

Here’s the problem, at least as I see it right now. There are two issues in the Jones case, and they arise sequentially. The issue that arises first in time is whether the installation of the device is a search or seizure, and if so, whether it was a reasonable search or seizure; the issue that arises second in time is whether the use of the device after it was installed is a search or seizure, and if so, whether it was a reasonable search or seizure. Based on the argument, it was clear there was at least one vote (Scalia) for the view that installation of the device is a search. It was also clear that at least some other Justices are interested in saying that the use of the device is a search or seizure. The tricky question is, what happens if a majority of the Court concludes that somewhere in the process of installing and using the GPS there is a search or seizure, but there is no agreement as to which steps triggers the analysis or what constituties reasonableness?

To frame the issue, consider two common occurrences, each with a different voting rule. First, imagine members of a multi-member court are asked to say whether conduct in a single event is lawful. There are two different [...]

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Reflections on the Oral Argument in United States v. Jones, the GPS Fourth Amendment Case

I was at the Supreme Court this morning for the oral argument in United States v. Jones, the GPS case. In this post, I want to blog my reactions to the argument: I’m going to update the post as I go, so general readers can get the important stuff first at the top and then general readers can get the rest down the page.

1) My basic reaction was that the outcome was too close to call. The Justices gave both sides a very hard time, and few Justices tipped their hand. The Justices pushed Michael Dreeben (arguing for the United States) on the consequences of his argument: If the Government was right, they noted, then the government can install a GPS device on all the Justices’ cars and watch them, too, along with everybody else. They pushed Steve Leckar (arguing for Jones) on the difficulty of identifing a clear Fourth Amendment principle to distinguish visual surveillance from GPS surveillance. The votes were hard to count, but if you had to summarize a reaction of the Court as a whole, I would say that the Justices were looking to find a principle to regulate GPS surveillance but unconvinced (at least as of the argument) that there was a legal way to get there without opening up a Pandora’s Box of unsettling lots of long settled practices.

2) The Justice who most clearly showed his cards was Justice Scalia. Justice Scalia made clear that he would overrule Katz v. United States; make common law of trespass the test for what is a search; and say that the installation of the device was a search because it was a technical trespass. Even if Katz can’t be overturned, Scalia indicated, at the very least the common law of trespass should be [...]

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Panel on United States v. Jones, the Fourth Amendment GPS Case

A few weeks ago, I participated on a panel about United States v. Jones, the GPS case, at William & Mary Law School. The panel featured Steve Leckar, who will be arguing the case for Jones; Melanie Wilson, a criminal procedure professor at the University of Kansas (visiting at W&M); and Paul Marcus of W&M. The video has just been posted, and it’s here for those interested. The oral argument in Jones will be on Tuesday.


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My View of the Second Question Presented in United States v. Jones, the Fourth Amendment GPS Case

This is my second post on United States v. Jones, the case on GPS and the Fourth Amendment. In this post, I want to explore whether the act of installing the device should count a Fourth Amendment search or seizure. My bottom-line is that I find this a surprisingly difficult and open question: Justices wishing to apply the Fourth Amendment in a way that is consistent with Fourth Amendment text, history, principles, and precedents could plausibly go either way. One implication of this uncertainty is that if the Justices decide to regulate GPS under the Fourth Amendment, focusing on the installation of the device is a much better option than trying to jump into the thicket of issues discussed in my first post about use of the device once installed. At the same time, it’s worth noting two additional wrinkles. The first is the uncertain standard of reasonableness that would follow from a conclusion that installing the device is a search or seizure. The second is the important role of statutory regulation, which may deal with some of the concerns raised by those who want the Supreme Court to construe the Fourth Amendment to sharply limit GPS monitoring.

I. General Principles on Searches and Seizures

Let’s start with first principles, which I will take in large part from this recent article. The general purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to regulate police collection and use of evidence so that police practices are reasonable. Police officers want to collect evidence to bring cases that prosecutors can charge, and they need two distinct types of power to do this successfully. First, they need the power to uncover and expose evidence so they can see it and recognize its importance to criminal cases. Second, they need the power to “freeze” evidence [...]

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My View of the First Question Presented in United States v. Jones, the Fourth Amendment GPS Case

On November 8th, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in United States v. Jones, the case on whether installation and/or use of a GPS device on a suspect’s car to record the public places the car travels is a Fourth Amendment search or seizure. I wanted to offer my thoughts on the case.

At the outset, here’s my bottom line: I’m not sure which side should win. On one hand, I don’t think use of the device should be deemed a search or seizure. On the other hand, I am genuinely divided on whether I think the installation should be deemed a search or seizure. Given these two positions, I don’t have an answer to whether the combined installation and use should be permitted without Fourth Amendment oversight (although I have a lot of views on better or worse ways to get to either result). Regardless of how the Court rules, however, I think a new privacy statute is needed to address both government and private sector use of GPS surveillance.

I’m going to make that case over three posts. In this post, I’m going to address the first Question Presented (QP) in Jones: Whether the use of the device to obtain location information should be deemed a search or seizure. (My answer: No.) In the next post, I’m going to address the second QP, whether installation of the device is a search or seizure. (My answer: I’m divided.) And in the third post, I’m going to address the need for and likelihood of statutory regulation of GPS, especially if the Court rules for the government in the Jones litigation.

So that’s the game plan. On to the first post, on whether use of the device is a search.

I. The Inside/Outside Distinction

Let’s start with first [...]

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