Supreme Court troubled by warrantless GPS tracking

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Justice Antonin Scalia responded with evident sarcasm. "Well, it must be unconstitutional if it's scary," Scalia said.

More gently, Breyer pointed out that English authorities have used video footage to prevent terrorist attacks.

The point of the questioning was to get Leckar to offer a principled way to draw a line that would still allow police to do their jobs without compromising people's rights.

Leckar said perhaps police could use the GPS device to follow someone for one day or one trip, without first getting a warrant. But that didn't appear to satisfy much of the court, either.

An unusual array of interest groups backs Jones, including the Gun Owners of America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Civil Liberties Union and an association of truck drivers. The groups say GPS technology is much more powerful than the beeper technology police once employed in surveillance.

Other appeals courts have ruled that search warrants aren't necessary for GPS tracking.

The justices are considering two related issues, whether a warrant is needed before installing the device or using the GPS technology to track a vehicle. They could determine that the installation requires a warrant, leaving the knottier issues relating to tracking to another day.

A decision should come by spring. The case is U.S. v. Jones, 10-1259.

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