Rabbi David Saperstein: This decision was an important move to protect the basic rights of all Americans, and we applaud the Court's conclusion that the use of a GPS tracking device constitutes a search and as such requires a warrant to be used by law enforcement.
Washington, D.C. January 26th, 2012 - In response to the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Jones, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
This week's Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v Jones was an important statement of support for the Constitutional civil liberties treasured by Americans. The ruling, which held that police violated the Constitution by not getting a warrant before using a global position system (GPS) device to track a suspect's movements, brings the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures into the modern age. It also demonstrates that though the Founders could not have predicted today's technology, the rights with which all Americans are endowed are timeless. We were pleased to join an amicus brief in a lower court case on this same issue.
When we consider that tracking an individual's movements, especially for an extended period of time, reveals the most intimate details of a life, we see that the issue is a question of whether we have a right to keep our daily routines, our memberships, and our relationships as private as we would like. Whether the individual is going to Shabbat services or to work -- whether that person spends an hour, or merely moments, in a store or in the home - these are fundamentally personal aspects of life.
The Talmud observes that there is "harm caused by seeing" when an individual's privacy is violated. Rabbi Akiva even suggested that one should knock before entering one's own home, in case another family member requires privacy (Talmud Bavli, Pesahim 112a). Our teachings condemn eavesdropping, going so far as to prohibit seeking out the secrets of others, lest we violate the principle.
Regardless of the technology involved, these are fundamental principles that remain unchanged: A new method of eavesdropping or intruding into the lives of others does not change its nature. No matter how new the method, such intrusions are still violations of our basic liberties.