The United States Supreme Court ruled on Monday for the first time that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before using a global positioning system (GPS) device to track suspects.

The high court said that GPS tracking amounted to a search, and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The ruling comes as a defeat for the Obama administration, which sought have the top U.S. court overturn the ruling of a U.S. appeals court in Washington which threw out the conviction in August of a Washington nightclub owner arrested for drug dealing.

The U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the 2008 conviction of Antoine Jones, saying police violated his constitutional rights by tracking his movements with a satellite navigation system device affixed to his vehicle without a warrant.

The three-judge panel said the use of GPS, or Global Positioning System tracking, was a violation of Jones’ constitutional guarantee in the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure.

Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old Arab-American student, sued the FBI last year for placing a GPS tracking device on his car and then threatening him with charges when he tried to keep it.

The lawsuit, filed by by Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), accused Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller of violating Afifi’s constitutional rights.

The suit, obtained by Talking Points Memo, explained that Afifi, an American-born student at Mission College in Sara Clara who also works as a salesman, was concerned that the device found on his car might be a pipe bomb.

After posting photos of the device on, agents came to his apartment in a “bizarre mission to retrieve the device” and questioned him, according to the lawsuit.

That case is pending.

Read Monday's entire Supreme Court ruling (PDF) here.

-- With AFP