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ORWELLIAN SURVEILLANCE OF VEHICULAR TRAVELS
12 Dartmouth L.J. __ (2015)
  • Sam F. Hanna
Abstract
In United States v. Jones,the State planted a tracking device on an individual’s vehicle to track that vehicle’s travels twenty-four hours per day for twenty-eight days. The Court held that, because planting the device amounted to a physical trespass on private property, this amounted to a Fourth Amendment search under the historical ‘trespassory test’. However, the Court’s reliance on the trespassory test fails to take account of a modern surveillance method, known as automatic license plate recognition (“ALPR”), which makes it possible to track an automobile’s travels without the need to plant a tracking device on the vehicle. Consequently, by deciding the Jones case under the antiquated trespassory test, the Court’s opinion is shortsighted in two material respects. First, it fails to answer the underlying legal issue of whether prolonged police surveillance of automobile travels is constitutional. Second, it provides the State a loophole to accomplish the same objective by using a different, more technologically advanced, means.

However, is it sensible to make the absence or presence of a trespass on a vehicle the dividing line between whether or not the Fourth Amendment affords constitutional protection against automobile surveillance? In other words, should the means used to accomplish the objective dictate whether or not the constitution has been violated? Is it not more prudent to make the underlying objective itself the subject of the Court’s constitutional analysis?

The purpose of this note is to answer a question that the Jones Court, and many courts nationwide, have either avoided or failed to reach a unanimous decision on – that is, do individuals possess a constitutional expectation of privacy that the State will not indiscriminately conduct prolonged mass surveillance of their automobile travels without first obtaining a valid search warrant?


[1] 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012).
Publication Date
Spring 2015
Citation Information
Sam F. Hanna. "ORWELLIAN SURVEILLANCE OF VEHICULAR TRAVELS" 12 Dartmouth L.J. __ (2015)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/sam_hanna/3/