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    Washington Post: Court says police need a warrant to track vehicles via GPS

    The Washington Post reports on a case concerning location privacy and warrants:

    A federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled Tuesday that the government must obtain a warrant to attach a GPS unit to a car.

    The case involved alleged pharmacy burglaries in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland: the authorities suspected a trio of brothers and slapped a magnetic GPS unit to one of their vehicles after consulting the U.S. Attorney’s office — but without obtaining a warrant. […] In the resulting case, U.S. v. Katzin, the brothers argued that the evidence obtained as a result of the GPS unit should be inadmissible because the police had not obtained a warrant.

    The District Court agreed with the brothers, and the government appealed the case to the Court of Appeals for the Third District. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel upheld the lower court’s ruling, finding that the actions of the police were “highly disconcerting” under a physical intrusion theory of the Fourth Amendment.

    The judges dismissed the government’s arguments that the search was legal because the police had probable cause even if they didn’t seek a warrant, saying “generally speaking, a warrantless search is not rendered reasonable merely because probable cause existed that would have justified the issuance of a warrant.”

    That’s important because it extends a recent Supreme Court ruling, which found that GPS tracking constituted a search but did not rule on whether it’s reasonable to conduct such a search without a warrant. This week’s ruling is the first time a federal appeals court has ruled since that landmark decision.

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