Monthly Archives: January 2012

SCOTUS: Police Placing GPS Tracking Device on a Vehicle Without Warrant Violates the Fourth Amendment [or Does it?]

How about some good news on the civil liberties front to kick off the week for a change? Robert Barnes writing for The Washington Post reports that SCOTUS ruled 9-0 in United States v. Jones stating that the police placing a GPS tracking device on a person’s vehicle and tracking said vehicle over days, weeks, or months without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must obtain a search warrant before using a GPS device to track criminal suspects. But the justices left for another day larger questions about how technology has altered a person’s expectation of privacy.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the government needed a valid warrant before attaching a GPS device to the Jeep used by D.C. drug kingpin Antoine Jones, who was convicted in part because police tracked his movements on public roads for 28 days.

“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search’ ” under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, Scalia wrote.


Alito’s point was that it was the lengthy GPS surveillance of Jones itself that violated the Fourth Amendment and that “the use of longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.”

“For such offenses,” he wrote, “society’s expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not — and indeed, in the main, simply could not — secretly monitor and catalogue every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period.”

The only disagreement among the Justices was whether or not the decision went far enough to protect individuals in a 21st century world based on a 18th century law (i.e. the Fourth Amendment).

Hey, even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in awhile and in even rarer cases, 9 Supreme Court Justices.

***Correction/Further Analysis***
If you followed the link to The Washington Post article, you might notice that the parts I quoted don’t match up exactly. This is because the article has since been edited with a more complete explanation of what United States v. Jones really means. It appears that I put entirely too much trust into what was being reported in the media here and elsewhere (and I still haven’t gotten around to reading the opinion for myself).

Doug Mataconis (who is a lawyer; I am not) was the first to point out that the coverage of this ruling isn’t quite as good from a civil liberties perspective as the media would have us believe:

I think all you can really say is that, under circumstances of this case, the Court found that the use of the tracking device without a warrant was impermissible. As the majority opinion notes, however, the Government attempted to raise in their arguments to the Supreme Court the theory that the search was supported by reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause to believe that Jones was the leader of a drug gang. Under such a theory, the use of the tracking device would have theoretically been justified even without a warrant.

You can read a more detailed analysis from Doug here Outside the Beltway.

Doug also pointed me to this article by Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy post entitled “What Jones Does Not Hold”

It seems that I wasn’t the only one mislead about the true impact of this ruling. Even Radley Balko at The Agitator had to make some corrections to his post regarding this case and made reference to the same post by Kerr as well as an even more discouraging analysis from Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog.

An explanation for… Almost everything really…

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm-but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

— T.S. Eliot

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

We don’t go black… We try to turn on lights

We’re not going black today, over SOPA or PIPA.

In case you by some miracle hadn’t noticed it yet, tens of thousands of web sites around the country and around the world, are “going black” or putting up banners explaining that they are not available or there is no content today etc… In protest against the “Stop Online Privacy Act” and the “ProtectIP act”, which are currently (or were recently), being promulgated in congress.

We don’t have a problem with anyone who does. It’s important that people understand what SOPA and PIPA are (or were), and most folks are sadly unaware of the kind of stupid and harmful things that our government does.

Google and Wikipedia are two of the most important and most used sites on the net; and by participating in this protest, they will very certainly make a lot more people aware of this issue.

But “going black” isn’t what we do here.

We talk about political and social issues here; in particular about liberty and freedom. We try to inform people about the important issues, events, and principles of liberty and freedom; and then talk about them in as free and open a way as we can.

I personally think that going black would be entirely against what we are about here; and while it might help to draw more attention to the problem, it wouldn’t help us inform you, or help us begin the conversation about the issue.

… and of course, you can’t go to wikipedia day to find out about it…

So, I personally, would like to do something that is in the spirit of protesting the idiotic and harmful nature of these pieces of industry lobbying masquerading as legislation…

…And share a few things:

That’s the best explanation of why the freedom to share (within fair use of course, copyrights ARE important) is important; and why legislation like PIPA and SOPA are not only stupid and harmful, but entirely antithetical to the American system of ordered liberty.

And then there’s this piece by my friend (and bestselling author, buy his excellent books please) Larry Correia:

“for all of the people out there on the internet having a massive freak out about the government potentially damaging something they love… WELCOME TO THE PARTY.

You think this is something new or unusual? Nope. This is just about a topic that you happen to be familiar with. If you fall into that camp, I want you to take a deep breath, step back, and examine all of the other issues in the past that you didn’t know jack squat about, but your knee jerk reaction was to say “there’s a problem, the governement has to do something!” Well guess what? The crap the federal government usually comes up with to fix these problems is similar to SOPA. In other words, the legislation addresses a perceived problem by instituting a bunch of stupid overregulation and taking away someone’s freedom.

You think people need access to affordable medical care and shouldn’t be denied coverage? Well, you got used and we got the bloated ridiculous mess that is Obamacare. You saw a news report about how big business defrauded people and said congress should do something? Well, everyone in the business world got screwed because of Enron by completely useless new arbitrary crap laws, and a few years later we got into an even bigger financial crisis which the arbitrary crap laws we spent billions conforming to did nothing to prevent. No, because that financial crisis was caused by people saying that there was this huge problem that needed to be fixed, so more people who couldn’t afford to pay mortgages could still buy houses, and the government simply had to do something to fix this problem!

Any crisis… Any problem… You ask the feds to fix it, you get this kind of answer. Almost never do the laws fix the actual problem. Instead the government gets bigger and gains a few more powers and it doesn’t fix the issue. When the problem gets bigger, then the government gets bigger and gains a few more powers that actually make the problem worse. Oh look! Despite all of these laws the problem has gotten even bigger? Whatever should we do? Why, I know! Let’s pass an even bigger law that takes away more individual freedom and gives the government more control!
Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Any topic, any situation, any problem.

They address it, you lose freedom and they gain more control. Some of you are only offended today because this particular law hurts something you enjoy. The rest of the time? Screw it. You can’t be bothered to pay attention. Or worse, people like me who are up in arms over an issue are just cranks or anti-government crackpots.”

I was going to write something roughly similar to this, but Larry beat me to it… and I’d rather share what he wrote, because it’s good, and because I can.

At least for now…

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Romney Would Have Signed the NDAA; Trusts that President Obama “Would not abuse this Power”

In last night’s debate, Gov. Mitt Romney said something quite incredible when asked if he would have signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA):

Yes I would have [signed the NDAA] and I do believe it’s appropriate to have the capacity to detain people who are threats to this country who are members of Al Qaeda. Look you have every right in this country to protest and to express your views on a wide range of issues but you don’t have a right to join a group that is challenged America and has threatened killing Americans, has killed Americans and has declared war against America. That’s treason. And in this country we have a right to take those people and put them in jail.

And I recognize in a setting where there are enemy combatants and some of them on our own soil that could possibly be abused. There are a lot of things that I think this president does wrong – lots of them. But I don’t think he’s going to abuse this power and I know that if I were president I would not abuse this power. And I could also tell you in my view, you have to choose people who have sufficient character not to abuse the power of the presidency and to make sure that we do not violate the Constitutional principles.

But let me tell you, people who join Al Qaeda are not entitled to the rights of due process under our normal legal code. They are entitled instead to be treated as enemy combatants.

There are so many problems with Gov. Romney’s answer but let’s start with the issue of treason. The Constitution actually deals with the issue of treason (one of the few crimes mentioned in the document) in Article III, Section 3:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Where in this section does it say anything about jailing alleged traitors without due process? From my reading of this, the bar for proving treason is quite high but at a very minimum requires a trial (as opposed to the president’s declaration someone is a traitor or “enemy combatant”).

Perhaps the bigger issue is Romney’s throwing out any notion of the rule of law and replacing it with the rule of men. We are supposed to trust the president, even the very president who he says has done “lots of things” wrong. The onus is on us to make sure the “right” person is elected so that this power isn’t ever abused and does not violate Constitutional principles rather than constrain him with the rule of law (i.e. the Constitution).

I’ve got some bad news for you Gov. Romney. I don’t believe you have “sufficient character not to abuse the power of the presidency.” Your very acknowledgement that you would have signed the NDAA proves that you cannot be trusted to defend the Constitution as your oath would require.

National Defense Authorization Act Passes Complete With Indefinite Detention Provisions
The Late David Nolan’s Indefinite Detention of U.S. Citizens Fears One Step Closer to Being Realized

Quote of the Day: MLK Day 2012 Edition

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is unquestionably one of the most infamous famous speeches in American history. In listening to the speech today, I found the following passages that aren’t as often quoted to be some of the most powerful lines in the speech.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

America has come a long way since King delivered this speech. Racial and ethnic minorities have made great strides thanks to courageous individuals like King who made a stand for liberty and justice (and in King’s case, paid with his life) and we are all better off for it.

Here is the rest of the speech. Listen and be inspired.

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