Pixel Tracker

Monday, February 18 , 2019, 1:31 pm | A Few Clouds 57º

 
 
 
 

Diane Dimond: Your Privacy vs. Police Investigations

U.S. Supreme Court ruling may make the job of law enforcement more complicated

Back in the Wild West days, law enforcement officers like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson had few tools to keep the peace. Guile and a gun on their hip were about all they possessed in the face of trouble.

Today’s officers have many more ways of tracking down and capturing the bad guys. That makes their job much easier than in days of old but also more complicated. A recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court may have just made modern-day law enforcement more complex.

Bear with me a moment here, and I’ll explain why.

First, you should know that the Supreme Court decision I speak of stems from the case of Antoine Jones, a nightclub owner in Washington, D.C., who was suspected of being a part of a massive cocaine-selling ring. In an effort to gather information about Jones, police slapped a GPS tracking device on his Jeep. An ingenious move in this technologically advanced day and age, you might think. Indeed, the information about Jones’ travel was used to convict him in what police called “the largest cocaine seizure in the District’s history.” Jones was sentenced to life in prison in January 2008.

But the highest court in our land has now ruled that installing that GPS tracker was an unconstitutional action, a violation of every citizen’s Fourth Amendment protection against illegal searches and seizures because no judge signed a warrant ahead of time. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that “monitor(ing) the vehicle’s movements constitutes a ‘search,’” much like police entering your home without a warrant to see what they can find.

In addition, the unanimous decision found fault with the Washington police for leaving the GPS device in place for a full month, monitoring Jones’ trips to church, a gym, a local bar and the headquarters of a known bookie. While I’m guessing police (and the FBI, which was part of the operation) had firm evidence that pointed to Jones’ involvement in the drug operation, you have to admit it is kind of creepy to think law enforcement can secretly follow a citizen around for days on end without first convincing a judge they’ve got probable cause to do so.

An appeals court had already overturned Jones’ conviction, and the U.S. Supreme Court has now let that stand. It’s assumed but not confirmed that prosecutors will try Jones again on drug charges.

But here’s why this decision may wreak havoc in cop-shops across the land. There are nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and in writing their thoughts on the Jones case I think they may have opened the door to countless challenges to technologically based police investigative techniques.

Five of the justices wrote that they are uncomfortable with the government using all sorts of modern technologies. Specifically mentioned was the data officers can gather from cell phone towers or those automatic toll booths to help prove where a suspect was at any given time.

While the Jones case focused on the narrow issue of his Jeep and a GPS system, Justice Samuel Alito wrote about other “new devices that permit the monitoring of a person’s movements” that just don’t square with what we traditionally think of as our Fourth Amendment rights to privacy.

Alito worried about the government tapping into “closed-circuit television video monitoring (that) is becoming ubiquitous,” toll collection systems that help police put a suspect at the right place at the right time, and even the apparatus on many new cars that allows roadside assistance companies to pinpoint a driver’s exact location or to find the car if it is stolen.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor correctly pointed out, “Physical intrusion is now unnecessary to many forms of surveillance.” All a police officer has to do these days is learn to tap into technology that is already in place — like cameras that record the action at banks, intersections, office hallways and many public spaces. “People disclose the phone numbers that they dial or text to their cellular providers; the URLs that they visit (on the computer) and the email addresses with which they correspond to their Internet service providers,” Sotomayor wrote. And so if a person gives up that information to a third party, isn’t it fair game for the cops?

Every police investigator I know would say yes.

But now that justices of the U.S. Supreme Court have raised questions about police using these technological tactics, can it be long before defense attorneys figure out ways to cast doubt on entire investigations?

I can just hear it now, “Your honor, my client’s right to privacy was violated when police learned from a search of his computer that he was buying Oxycontin online! They had no reason to know he was selling it without that illegal search!”

I’m betting that some of them with clients convicted on technologically based evidence have poured over this latest Supreme Court ruling and are already thinking about ways to appeal their cases. I hope judges everywhere are ready for them.

Diane Dimond is the author of Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust. Click here for more information. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.