Supreme Court: Installing GPS Trackers on People’s Cars Requires a Warrant

Split Decision on How Broad Ruling Goes

The US Supreme Court struck down a power grab by the Obama Administration, ruling the government cannot secretly conduct open-ended surveillance on the movements of individuals through GPS tracking without a search warrant.

The Obama Administration had argued that the government had absolute power to install such devices and track the movements of all suspects without warrants. Exactly how broad the GPS surveillance ruling goes, however, is split between a majority and minority decision.

The majority decision only said that the installation of a device for long-term surveillance required a warrant, but declined to rule on the surveillance itself. But minority of the justices, led by Samuel Alito, went further, arguing that long-term surveillance was itself a de facto “search” and also required a warrant.

The question of random GPS surveillance without planting devices could be an increasingly important one since such features are becoming ubiquitous in personal electronics like cell phones. The Supreme Court majority’s ruling leaves open the question of whether the Obama Administration can simply track an American’s movements using existing GPS devices in that person’s possession. With a minority of four justices already against this, the administration will likely seek to avoid such a challenge.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.