The Supreme Court has confirmed in a ruling that if the government places a GPS tracker on someone's person or their belongings, the act counts as a search—something that remains protected by the Fourth Amendment.

As part of a case referred to as Grady v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court heard about how Torrey Dale Grady—twice-convicted as a sex offender—was made to wear a GPS monitor at all times by North Carolina officials. In court, Grady challenged this, claiming it qualified as an unreasonable search. The Supreme Court agreed, explaining:

The only theory we discern […] is that the State's system of nonconsensual satellite-based monitoring does not entail a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. That theory is inconsistent with this Court's precedents.

It also listed some Supreme Court precedents to make its case, including a case where a tracker placed on a car without a warrant counted as unreasonable search. "It doesn't matter what the context is, and it doesn't matter whether it's a car or a person," Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Freedom Foundation, told The Atlantic. "Putting that tracking device on a car or a person is a search."

Still, the Fourth Amendment takes poor account of digital technology generally, and courts have only ruled on a small number of cases involving GPS data. At some point, as Lynch points out to The Atlantic, the justice system will need to establish how geo-location data—now prolific in phones, cars, watches and more—is governed and protected. In the meantime, though, North Carolina better rethink its policy on issuing GPS trackers to sex offenders. [The Atlantic, Washington Post]

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