Jones is Tied Up in Knotts: A Commentary on United States v. Jones


In a case that some are calling the most important Fourth Amendment case in recent years, on June 27, 2011, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and agreed to hear United States v. Jones, 10-1259 (Ct. App. D.C., 2010), sub nom. United States v Maynard, 615 F.3d 544 (Ct. App. D.C. 2010).

The sole question before the Court is: Whether the warrantless use of a tracking device on petitioner’s vehicle to monitor its movements on public streets violated the Fourth Amendment. U.S. v. Jones, Petition for Certiorari, at 3.

Jones involves an appeal by the government of a decision of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that use by police of a GPS unit surreptitiously installed on the defendants vehicle without a warrant to track all of the defendant's movement for a month violated the defendant's reasonable expectation in the privacy of the totality of his movements over a protracted period and, therefore, violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment.

Information and communication technology pose thorny issues in any purportedly free society, particularly one governed by a written constitution that specifically protects the rights of citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Constitutional law at the intersection of technology and privacy is, at best, unsettled. The Jones case, however, is far from the optimal forum in which to address these issues.

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