Rights reformed

Posted: December 5, 2011

 Your rights are up for reform

It’s time to take a closer look at the issues facing our nation’s governing system. As the next generation, it’s our responsibility to step up.

By Brigid Kelly, Talon staff writer

A Jeep Grand Cherokee was followed for thirty days. The owner had no idea that police were watching and analyzing his every destination – neither did a judge, because a valid warrant was never granted to put a tracking device on his car. Police suspected the owner of the car to be a member of a cocaine-selling operation. The evidence gathered from the GPS placed on Antoine Jones’ car landed him prison for life.

One problem: did the police act legally? A federal appeals court said no and overturned Jones’ conviction. Now, with the intention of setting an example for similar cases in the future, it’s gone to the United States Supreme Court for a final decision

Finally, a small leap into the modern era is upon American citizens. The United States Supreme Court started a new term on October 3 with the kind of agenda that could have extreme consequences on our generation’s future – it’s time for us to pay attention. The business dealings that have usually dominated the docket are taking a back seat to new issues. For some, it’s unsettling. For others, it’s a much overdue wave of evolution into the 21st century. The Supreme Court will hear a revolutionary set of cases that could reconstruct the criminal justice system – starting with the case of Antoine Jones.

Heard on November 8, this case was brought to the Supreme Court after the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned Jones’ conviction, claiming that the amount of information gathered was a Fourth Amendment violation.

As technology advances, the rights provided to us as citizens must be adjusted. The “unreasonable search and seizure” identified in the 18th century Fourth Amendment is too vague to secure the privacy of today’s citizens.

The Fourth Amendment also states that the rights of the people to their “persons, houses, papers, and effects” would not be violated without a warrant granted from probable cause. Police officers must convince a judge by presenting some evidence, such as a witness testimony, that a warrant is needed so more evidence can be gathered. In Jones’ case, probable cause was never identified and a warrant was never given.

As mentioned by Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer when addressing the arguing attorneys on November 8, if the Fourth Amendment can’t be applied to this new technology, then there’s nothing preventing the police or the government from monitoring every citizen’s public movement, 24 hours a day. It would take very small budget to place a GPS on every car in the nation.

Imagine this: you’re suddenly catapulted into George Orwell’s 1984, your rights to personal privacy are gone and before you know it, Orwell’s “Big Brother” is our government. As a citizen, you can be followed and tracked, in the most intimate way, by law enforcement without your knowing. You catch yourself constantly questioning whether or not the privacy of your home is really private – it’s a scary thought.

So, should the Constitution be able to prevent the police from putting GPS on a car without a warrant or the owner’s permission? Is the instillation of a tracking device a violation of the rights provided by the Constitution?

Jones’ life will be determined by the answer to this question. Why should you care? The outcome of this case will have immeasurable influence on our lives as we begin to fill our “next generation” rolls.

Without a warrant, Constitutional rights should provide protection from such an invasion of privacy. With a warrant, the use of a GPS would still violate the permissions granted by a warrant – a tracking device on a vehicle allows for the investigation of more than one location. Consider this: your car’s travels reveal more than one aspect of your life. Tracking you would not only reveal your possible guilt or innocence, but it would also uncover some of your life’s intimacies. Who your friends are, whether or not you’re faithful to a partner, where you spend your Saturday afternoons – some of the endless examples of inappropriate and extraneous information police could gather from tracking your car.

However, the Fourth Amendment is not in place to protect the privacy of cocaine dealers. It was brilliantly created and phrased by our founding fathers to protect the dignity and privacy guaranteed to every American citizen. If the Supreme Court decides that this use of a GPS tracking device is appropriate and doesn’t conflict with the words found in the Fourth Amendment, then we need to be weary of what’s ahead of us. Our future security would be in jeopardy of utter destruction, as our rights to privacy would inevitably be stripped from our very hands.

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