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.