The case they ruled on had the DEA planting a GPS device on a suspect’s vehicle, which was parked in his driveway at the time, without a warrant at all.
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers California, Arizona, Oregon and a bunch of the western US, has ruled that the government did nothing wrong when the DEA planted a GPS tracking device on Juan Pineda-Moreno’s Jeep, which was parked in his driveway—without a search warrant. The underpinning for the ruling is that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in your driveway—unless you’re loaded and it’s kept safe, hidden from the outside world by gates or other security measures—and you have no reasonable expectation not to be tracked by the government.
According to Time, Judge Alex Kozinski (a Reagan appointee as it happens) accused his fellow members of the court of cultural elitism noting that the only people who could expect privacy from these sort of government tactics under this ruling are, for the most part, rich people who can afford to live in gated communities.
That’s not a bad point.
The idea that people don’t have an expectation of privacy in their driveway is tricky. To me, the barrier lays with property boundaries. If I can see you doing something from public property (like a sidewalk, for instance) then you don’t have an expectation of privacy. But if I have to come onto your property to track you, then you’re violating privacy.
Of course, that would still leave open the idea that a tracking device could be put on a vehicle while it’s parked in public. And that’s even trickier. After all, without a GPS device the government can still track your movements via things like traffic lights and other public surveillance cameras. It’s harder, but they can do it. And there are hundreds of ways in which we disclose our location to private third-parties who are under no legal obligation to refrain from sharing it with the government. Cell phones. Foursquare check ins. Twitter. Facebook.
But can the government stick a device to your car without your knowledge? Again, I think private property is the boundary. My car is my property. You can’t put things in my car without either getting my permission or getting a warrant.
This ruling is a serious blow to privacy rights. Let’s hope it is appealed, and that the Supreme Court ultimately reverses it.