A Delaware criminal case presently before the courts may define what constitutes a reasonable expectation of privacy.
The American Civil Liberties Union this week filed a brief in Delaware v. Michael D. Holden, urging the state justices to uphold a lower court ruling that essentially bars police from using Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to track people without a court-approved warrant.
Holden, 28, of Newark, was suspected of dealing drugs and was electronically tracked for more than 20 days by police without a warrant, ending with his arrest after police discovered 10 pounds of marijuana in his vehicle after he visited a suspected drug distribution house. The judge in the case tossed out the drug evidence, ruling that the lengthy warrantless tracking of Holden amounted to an illegal search.
With GPS devices in nearly all cellphones and in many cars and with the popularity of online applications with which users broadcast their locations to others in real time, Letang and others said the definition of what is private and what is public may have shifted. They also believe the permission that consumers have to give companies such as Apple and Google to use their equipment makes GPS tracking more common and potentially available to police if they subpoena those companies."It is tough to carve out an expectation of privacy when everyone else knows where you are," Letang said.
A comment by Superior Court Judge Jan R. Jurden back in December sums up what many civil rights libertarians have predicted for years: "The advance of technology will continue ad infinitum. ... An Orwellian state is now technologically feasible. Without adequate judicial preservation of privacy, there is nothing to protect our citizens from being tracked 24/7."
The case may make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, dependent on if the ruling is limited to the Delaware state constitution.
Read details of the case here.