Free Markets, Free People

Why no warrant?

You go to get an oil change and while your car is up on the rack, the mechanic notices a strange wire.  It leads to some sort of device that is not a part of your car.  You pull it off, take pictures and put it on the internet trying to get some help identifying the object, and the next thing you know, the FBI is at your door demanding you return their GPS device.  You were under surveillance, something the FBI needed no probable cause or a warrant to do.

Of course the point is this isn’t something that occurred in China or some banana republic.  It happened here.

I’m not saying that perhaps their isn’t a need for surveillance or that the use of a GPS tracking device wouldn’t be a good way to do it.  What I’m questioning is the lack of due process before it is done:

One federal judge wrote that the widespread use of the device was straight out of George Orwell’s novel, "1984".

"By holding that this kind of surveillance doesn’t impair an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, the panel hands the government the power to track the movements of every one of us, every day of our lives," wrote Alex Kozinski, the chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a blistering dissent in which a three-judge panel from his court ruled that search warrants weren’t necessary for GPS tracking.

But other federal and state courts have come to the opposite conclusion.

Law enforcement advocates for the devices say GPS can eliminate time-consuming stakeouts and old-fashioned "tails" with unmarked police cars. The technology had a starring role in the HBO cops-and-robbers series "The Wire" and police use it to track every type of suspect — from terrorist to thieves stealing copper from air conditioners.

So the argument is it is convenient for law enforcement?  While I don’t normally agree with 9th Circuit judges, I certainly agree with Kozinski on this one.  And why is it such a bother for the FBI or any law enforcement agency to have to get a warrant to track a suspect. Probable cause.  Due process. Those are deeply embedded concepts that are designed to protect individual liberty.  In effect, Kozinski is exactly right – as it stands, law enforcement literally is empowered to track every single person in the US without their permission.

That isn’t the country steeped in individual liberty that I grew up to expect.



Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

22 Responses to Why no warrant?

  • If I ever find one of these, I’m going to introduce it to Mr Degaussing Coil a couple of times, and then smile when the FBI demands its return.

  •  and the next thing you know, the FBI is at your door demanding you return their GPS device

    >>> I certainly hope they didn’t get it back.

  • I would introduce the “device” to “Mr. Hammer” followed by “Mr. PAR gas.”
    But if you really want to embarrass the FBI, I suggest you call 911 and report a possible explosive device on your car.

    • Best reply yet.  Saying ‘bomb’ may be excessive, but report some unknown device has been installed on your car.

  • And in most cases, its silence from those that writhed in agony over the Patriot Act when it was the other team’s quarterback calling the shots.  This is far more sweeping and arguably as or more invasive since it is more applicable to joe average and can be used to build a criminal case.

  • This might be a lose-lose for police. If they happen to draw a judge that actually believes in the rule of law. Anything they develop this way or get a warrant out of this way should be inadmissible and following the “fruit of the poison tree” concept would probably taint their entire case. If the case were allowed to proceed, it would/should wind up in front of SCOTUS. Then politics will rear its misbegotten trollish head.

  • I’d have taken it apart to see what it looked like inside.

  • Making it easier for the cops is not a legitimate argument. In fact, I tend to take the opposite tack. If it makes the job of the police harder, it’s likely better for personal freedom. This kind of technological “advance” smacks of “fishing expedition” a type of legal investigation we should frown upon. Stake outs and tails cost police money/resources. In that situation there’s normally someone up in the chain of command saying, “You better have a damn good reason to commit these resources.” No doubt we’ll have to wait for some redress. Like when some prominent politician is subjected to the same treatment.

    • Making it easier for the cops is not a legitimate argument

      >>> I don’t have a major problem with the feds putting that tool in their box, but they need to get a warrant to tamper with your personal property.

      This is bullsiht

  • Am I think only one who immediately thought of putting it in a box and mailing it across the country? Maybe address it to some FBI or CIA office in a city 2000 miles away. Or even to some place in Canada.
    I just wonder how long it would take the police to figure out that they were tracking a USPS truck.

  • no probable cause = no warrant = no way.

    That at least one court has upheld this is frightening and infuriating.

    • kyle8 – no probable cause = no warrant = no way.

      Absolutely.  This isn’t a case of a police officer on patrol noticing something strange about a car and following it.  It isn’t even a case of a cop suspecting that somebody is up to no good and making a point to keep an eye on them.

      Once the courts decide that it’s legal to put a tracking device on a person’s car without a warrant, what’s to stop them putting such devices on EVERY car?  Once we cross a legal Rubicon, it’s hard to go back.

  • So assuming the government stands on this not being a privacy violation, the cops and government officials would have no legal objection if we (the People) installed similar trackers on all of their personal vehicles, all collected on google map display on “”

  • I assume that the Onstar program in the Government Motors cars can enable tracking under the same theory.
    Also 911 cellphone access.
    Game is already lost.

  • When you find such a device, drive to the nearest FBI building at 4:55 p.m. on Friday . Park your car in such a way to block their parking lot’s exit. Then call the local police saying you suspect someone has planted a bomb on your car.

  • Why get upset when you can turn the tables on them, and have some fun busting their cookies, you could:
    Drop it off at the Russian Consulate.
    Wait for a container ship to pass under the highway bridge and drop it on deck.
    Mail it to a far away country, like Iran.
    Reattach it to a New York City Taxi  or commuter rail Bud-liner.
    Float it down a big river on a piece of dock foam.
    Attach it to a weather balloon.
    The most important thing is to make sure they don’t get the device back. These thing aren’t cheap, the only way to make sure that they get the message that spying on the people comes at a price, is to raise the cost of doing it, even if all you do is down it down a mine shaft.

  • We’re only caring now because the cost of following you has gone down. Nothing prevented the government from doing this before besides cost. I’m not sure how the argument of “Government shouldn’t be able to do X because it’s now cheaper and easier” is going to scale.

    Scale the technology back, did planting a radio beacon on your car require a warrent?

  • Frankly, (in this case) the device simply tracks the movement of the car, not the occupant.  I see no right to privacy for an inanimate object, but I’m not an expert on the US constitution.