Is GPS Tracking Unconstitutional?

Student - LLI Columbus

While GPS tracking may be a useful resource in instances where locating a person is crucial, it ultimately goes against a person’s fourth amendment rights and general privacy.

First, let’s look at how GPS tracking can be entirely legal. If you own the object that you are tracking, if your children (under 18) are the focus of the tracking, or if you are tracking a car or asset with the purpose of legal repossession (Brickhouse Security). 

If these factors are not brought into play while using GPS tracking, then this subsequently would be illegal. If the government wanted to use GPS tracking in cases for whatever reason, the information taken into account shouldn’t reveal a great sum of sensitive information about a person’s movements and activities in public and private spaces that violate expectations of privacy (Timothy Ivory Carpenter v. U.S.A.).

This would cross an entire new line that the constitution protects for U.S. citizens. The privacy of American citizens should be protected against all unreasonable causes in the violation of their rights. There is a reason that the U.S. was built on these democratic ideals, and the illegal use of GPS tracking goes against our fundamental natural rights.

Being that cell phone carriers responded 1.3 million times last year to law enforcement requests for call data (Maas and Rajagopalan), it is a given to say that the government does not hesitate to tap into our private devices.

However many police agencies don’t obtain search warrants when requesting location data from carriers (Maas and Rajagopalan), so how is this legal under the fourth amendment?

This is an inevitable question we must ask ourselves when considering the idea of GPS tracking under the enforcement of the U.S. constitution. Hopefully the soon to be precedent case of Carpenter v. United States will clarify this for us. As it deals with the ability of law enforcement agencies to obtain smartphone data collected by third party communication providers (Carpenter v. United States). Meanwhile, the U.S. government along with its citizens must revisit the purpose and effect of the foundational principles and values in our society.