In a series of rulings on the use of satellites and cellphones to track criminal suspects, judges around the country have been citing George Orwell’s “1984” to sound an alarm. They say the Fourth Amendment’s promise of protection from government invasion of privacy is in danger of being replaced by the futuristic surveillance state Orwell described.
In April, Judge Diane P. Wood of the federal appeals court in Chicago wrote that surveillance using global positioning system devices would “make the system that George Orwell depicted in his famous novel, ‘1984,’ seem clumsy.” In a similar case last year, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the federal appeals court in San Francisco wrote that “1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it’s here at last.”
Last month, Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn turned down a government request for 113 days of location data from cellphone towers, citing “Orwellian intrusion” and saying the courts must “begin to address whether revolutionary changes in technology require changes to existing Fourth Amendment doctrine.”
The Supreme Court is about to do just that. In November, it will hear arguments in United States v. Jones, No. 10-1259, the most important Fourth Amendment case in a decade. The justices will address a question that has divided the lower courts: Do the police need a warrant to attach a GPS device to a suspect’s car and track its movements for weeks at a time?
Their answer will bring Fourth Amendment law into the digital age, addressing how its 18th-century prohibition of “unreasonable searches and seizures” applies to a world in which people’s movements are continuously recorded by devices in their cars, pockets and purses, by toll plazas and by transit systems.
The Jones case will address not only whether the placement of a space-age tracking device on the outside of a vehicle without a warrant qualifies as a search, but also whether the intensive monitoring it allows is different in kind from conventional surveillance by police officers who stake out suspects and tail their cars.
There's also some interesting stuff in the DBR today, like Brian's op-ed (which I can't comment on since I'm still litigating the case), and Pacenti's article about the local jails.