The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in California and covering the nine western states, ruled that law enforcement can place GPS trackers on cars, without seeking a warrant. In 2007, Drug Enforcement Agents (DEA) in Oregon attached a GPS to a Jeep owned by Juan Pineda-Moreno, who was being investigated for growing marijuana. After Pineda-Moreno was arrested, prosecutors argued that his Jeep had been driven several times to several locations where agents discovered that marijuana was being grown. Prosecutors used the GPS data to link Pineda-Moreno to those locations. Faced with this evidence, Pineda-Moreno pled guilty to growing marijuana and served a 51 month jail sentence. However, he appealed the placing of the GPS device on his Jeep on the grounds that sneaking onto his private property and placing a GPS device to secretly track his Jeep violated his reasonable expectation of privacy. Evidence shows that DEA agents went onto his property several times without his permission and without his knowledge. His appeal was rejected twice by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Earlier this month the full court also rejected his appeal without comment.
It's likely that this issue will have to be decided by the Supreme Court. A federal appeals court in the District of Columbia arrived at an entirely different conclusion when they ruled that a warrant is required to place a GPS tracking device on a suspected drug dealer's vehicle. We published an article concerning this case earlier this month.
The dissent in the Pineda-Moreno case called the majority's ruling "creepy" and "underhanded." At least one privacy advocate warned that if this ruling stands, citizens will have to take active measures to protect their privacy, such as placing their vehicle in a garage, posting no trespassing signs or building a fence.
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