Saturday, January 28, 2012


From Sonia Sotomayor's opinion in United States v. Jones, decided January 23, 2012 (extra paragraphs included):

Nonetheless, as JUSTICE ALITO notes, physical intrusion is now unnecessary to many forms of surveillance. Post, at 9–12. With increasing regularity, the Government will be capable of duplicating the monitoring undertaken in this case by enlisting factory- or owner-installed vehicle tracking devices or GPS-enabled smartphones. See United States v. Pineda-Moreno, 617 F. 3d 1120, 1125 (CA9 2010) (Kozinski, C. J., dissenting from denial of rehearing en banc). In cases of electronic or other novel modes of surveillance that do not depend upon a physical invasion on property, the majority opinion’s trespassory test may provide little guidance. But “[s]ituations involving merely the transmission of electronic signals without trespass would remain subject to Katz analysis.” Ante, at 11. As JUSTICE ALITO incisively observes, the same technological advances that have made possible nontrespassory surveillance techniques will also affect the Katz test by shaping the evolution of societal privacy expectations. Post, at 10–11. Under that rubric, I agree with JUSTICE ALITO that, at the very least, “longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.” Post, at 13.

In cases involving even short-term monitoring, some unique attributes of GPS surveillance relevant to the Katz analysis will require particular attention. GPS monitoring generates a precise, comprehensive record of a person’s public movements that reflects a wealth of detail about her familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations. See, e.g., People v. Weaver, 12 N. Y. 3d 433, 441–442, 909 N. E. 2d 1195, 1199 (2009) (“Disclosed in [GPS] data . . . will be trips the indisputably private nature of which takes little imagination to conjure: trips to the psychiatrist, the plastic surgeon, the abortion clinic, the AIDS treatment center, the strip club, the criminal defense attorney, the by-the-hour motel, the union meeting, the mosque, synagogue or church, the gay bar and on and on”). The Government can store such records and efficiently mine them for information years into the future. Pineda-Moreno, 617 F. 3d, at 1124 (opinion of Kozinski, C. J.). And because GPS monitoring is cheap in comparison to conventional surveillance techniques and, by design, proceeds surreptitiously, it evades the ordinary checks that constrain abusive law enforcement practices: “limited police resources and community hostility.” Illinois v. Lidster, 540 U. S. 419, 426 (2004).

Awareness that the Government may be watching chills associational and expressive freedoms. And the Government’s unrestrained power to assemble data that reveal private aspects of identity is susceptible to abuse. The net result is that GPS monitoring—by making available at a relatively low cost such a substantial quantum of intimate information about any person whom the Government, in its unfettered discretion, chooses to track—may “alter the relationship between citizen and government in a way that is inimical to democratic society.” United States v. Cuevas-Perez, 640 F. 3d 272, 285 (CA7 2011) (Flaum, J., concurring).

I would take these attributes of GPS monitoring into account when considering the existence of a reasonable societal expectation of privacy in the sum of one’s public movements. I would ask whether people reasonably expect that their movements will be recorded and aggregated in a manner that enables the Government to ascertain, more or less at will, their political and religious beliefs, sexual habits, and so on. I do not regard as dispositive the fact that the Government might obtain the fruits of GPS monitoring through lawful conventional surveillance techniques. See Kyllo, 533 U. S., at 35, n. 2; ante, at 11 (leaving open the possibility that duplicating traditional surveillance “through electronic means, without an accompanying trespass, is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy”). I would also consider the appropriateness of entrusting to the Executive, in the absence of any oversight from a coordinate branch, a tool so amenable to misuse, especially in light of the Fourth Amendment’s goal to curb arbitrary exercises of police power to and prevent “a too permeating police surveillance,” United States v. Di Re, 332 U. S. 581, 595 (1948).* [* footnote omitted]

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