FBI Using Warrantless GPS To Track US Citizens
Mind if we track you?
Local activists may want to check under their car: Big Brother
may be following you.
GPS vehicle trackers, based on technology first used by the
military for navigation, have become a popular law-enforcement
tool for tracking people.
Cruder than other forms of surveillance, they report only where a suspect’s car goes and are frequently used for supplementary surveillance. That’s because in most jurisdictions, investigators don’t need court approval or a warrant to slap a tracking device on a driver’s car.
They’re also very effective. The devices provide a stealthier and more cost-effective approach to surveillance than a team of cops trailing a suspect around the clock. They have become one of the top choices for surveillance by government agencies like the FBI to use.
Wired magazine’s Kim Zetter reported:
The use of GPS tracking devices is poised to become one of the most contentious privacy issues before the Supreme Court, if it agrees to hear an appeal filed by the Obama administration last month. The administration is seeking to overturn a ruling by a lower court that law enforcement officials must obtain a warrant before using a tracker.
The constitutional matter until now has been left to district courts around the country to decide, resulting in a patchwork of conflicting rulings.
The tracking devices have become one of the most divisive Fourth Amendment issues facing courts around the country. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled last year that using a GPS tracker was no different than physically trailing a suspect in public, and that such surveillance was not protected by the Fourth Amendment, even if agents placed the device on a suspect’s car while it was parked in his driveway.
But Judge Alex Kosinski, in the dissenting opinion, called the use of GPS trackers without a court order “straight out of George Orwell’s novel 1984” and said they give government “the power to track the movements of every one of us, every day of our lives.”
Just ask Kathy Thomas. She found one of the tracking devices
underneath her car, placed there by the FBI.
Thomas, an environmental activist, doesn’t know if the FBI obtained a warrant to place the tracker on her car. But she said authorities never charged her with any crime. They did ask for their tracker back, though. She refused.
Her FBI file, which she obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, makes it clear the surveillance was part of a nationwide investigation of activists connected to Earth First!, the Earth Liberation Front, and the Animal Liberation Front — groups the FBI considered “left-wing anarchists” and whose members sometimes advocated criminal activity to further their aims.
Thomas says she organized activities with Earth First! and participated in animal rights activities, but she never belonged to the two other groups. Instead, she was a member of Food Not Bombs.
In other words: Warrant? We don’t need no stinkin’ warrant.