Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Whether SCOTUS says GPS tracking is constitutional, markets may decide if it's viable

Fourth Amendment fans and foes alike are awaiting oral arguments this fall in United States v. Jones, which will determine whether police require a warrant to surreptitiously put a GPS tracking device on your car.

Obviously, Grits thinks a warrant should be required, but frankly a warrant requirement isn't that great a barrier and the case made me wonder about technology to identify such devices. It turns out for $500 bucks you can purchase a device that will locate GPS trackers as well as wiretaps, wireless taps, and even hidden cameras. Ironically, with SCOTUS focused on the use of GPS trackers by the government, the manufacturer is promoting the device to protect against thieves:
Don't Give Thieves Access To Your Personal Information Or Possessions
Being spied on can be more than just embarrassing. Oftentimes, thieves use eavesdropping equipment or "bugs" such as sound amplifying devices for audio surveillance or hidden cameras for video surveillance to find out valuable information about your personal finances and possessions. Your private conversations can give thieves all the information they need to steal your identity, break into your home, or even abduct your children. Protect yourself with the Frequency Finder Bug Detector Pro.
As technology improves, I'd expect these device to become even cheaper. Certainly anyone engaged in serious criminal activity with a significant revenue stream can already afford one. But as sophisticated government surveillance methods are turned toward the general public, I wouldn't be surprised to see demand for such devices expand beyond the criminal class. Jason Trahan at the Dallas News recently had a story (Oct. 6, behind the paywall) about the expanded use of electronic tracking and surveillance by law enforcement, which opened:
Technology and security have collided in the decade after 9/11.

The result is an array of eavesdropping tactics, some of which have been used with great success in Dallas terrorism and corruption cases.

Vehicle trackers, wiretapping, cellphone GPS tracking are the updated versions of old-school, but still effective, tactics such as “sneak and peek” operations and simple covert surveillance.

“This stuff can be used to catch bad guys,” said Andrew Blumberg, a University of Texas math professor who studies technology and digital privacy issues.

“But the fact that you can do good things with it doesn’t outweigh the potential for abuse,” he said. “We need to have a national conversation about what’s acceptable,” he said.

That conversation got more complicated recently. This summer came the revelation that spy agencies, which generally do not need court warrants for their work, have also turned their attention stateside. Long prohibited from monitoring U.S. citizens, unless they were working with a foreign power or group, government organizations such as the National Security Agency may be using cellphone data to track more people’s movements here.

“There are certain circumstances where that authority may exist,” was the cryptic answer NSA general counsel Matthew Olsen gave the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in July during his confirmation hearing to head the National Counterterrorism Center.

Olsen was asked to elaborate, but the details are classified. The exchange has stoked the debate on how far the government can go in watching, listening to and monitoring the activities of its bosses: the American people.
It's little wonder, then, that the manufacturers of the device mentioned above are actually suggesting a business model for people to make money with their product:
Make Up To $900 In 3 Hours Debugging Homes Or Businesses Of Eavesdropping Devices & Hidden Cameras
For every "Bug," "Telephone Tap," "Spy-Cam" and "GPS Tracking Device" that is sold, there are 20 - 30 people out there that are afraid that they are being secretly watched and/or listened to. If you've ever thought about entering one of the most interesting, exciting and extremely lucrative businesses around today, look no further. The Counter Surveillance industry is exploding with opportunity. The universal desire to escape this surreptitious Eavesdropping has now created a fantastic opportunity for individuals and firms that can once again restore this rapidly vanishing privacy. And now you can do it all with this tiny pocket sized device.
I think they're right that the diminishing arena of personal privacy, particularly in public spaces, over time will create greater demand for "counter-surveillance" devices and services. I could even see auto manufacturers advertising devices that identify GPS trackers as an add-on feature in new vehicles for buyers who place a premium on their personal privacy. If one actually thinks your conversations, location or personal information are valuable enough for someone to engage in electronic surveillance, $500 is a relative bargain to prevent it. Indeed, as government and private-sector use of surveillance technology grows, and as this kind of counter-surveillance technology becomes more common and less expensive, I can see the day coming when these types of devices are as common as burglar alarms or other such security devices.

The Supreme Court will decide soon whether GPS tracking without a warrant is constitutional. But in the end, it may be the market that decides whether the tactic is viable.


Lee said...

So the cops come up to you and say "we have a search warrant that allows us to place this tracking device on this specific vehicle"? First the police have to find the vehicle assuming that it is not at your residence in plain view. If you have the vehicle somewhere else and refuse to tell the police where it is so that they may attach their bug then are you to be charged with contempt and held until you do give them the information that they want or does your right to remain silent take presidence. if you find out that your vehicle is being tracked likely you will just use another or carpool with your accomplace while the car that is being tracked remains parked. In the event you are driving your tracked vehicle and roads being what they are the bug is damaged due to weather or any other uncreative condition, then are you being dragged back to the holding cell on a contempt charge where the bill for the bug is awaiting you? This senario allows punishment without a conviction. If you are preforming maintenance to your vehicle and are unaware until your mechanic brings the device to your attention, what is to become of it. You and your mechanic have not seen any warrant justifying this bug device and so the both of you agree to send it to the hungry basura. The police then end up scouring the city dump and find their device but what justification do they have to legally sanction you or your mechanic when niether of you were supposed to know of the warrant?

Anonymous said...

If I found a gps tracking device on my car I think I'd drop by the bus station and attach it to the nearest outbound Greyhound to Seattle.

rodsmith said...

i think it could all be handled by simply removing anyone caught in the dark wandering around under anyone's car!

at that point UNTIL identified they are noting but sneaky little twits in the dark up to no good!

shoot em like any cop in the same situation would!

trust me after the first couple got capped bosses would find it hard to find new volunteers for the job!

Jessie said...

GPS tracking doesn't have to be unconstitutional. Unethical uses of this technology is what makes it seem that way. As long as it's used correctly, I see nothing wrong with them.

rodsmith said...

what's making it unconstutional jessie is the govt continual refusal to follow said constution and GET A WARRANT!

like i said absent a warrant if they are wandering around in the dark on my property and under my car and get caught they are simply gonna be dead!

the problem is that for decades the courts have simply been rubber-stamp yes man for the govt letting them do pretty much whatever they want!

heck one State Supreme Court just announced that even if law enforcemnt is breaking the law. You are requried to submit and take them to court later!

sorry not in my book and not according to 200 years of U.S. Supreme Court decisions. In fact you have every legal right to resist any illegal order from ANYONE no matter what costume they may have on. That was one reason the 2nd ammemdment was placed. To prohibit the govt from taking AMERICAN CITIZENS guns! since they knew an unarmed citizen is a SLAVE to it's gov't!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jessie, in that case, why not require a warrant?

john said...

Since Homeland Security & the U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, the FBI et al. can make up "warrants." No lawyers or judges necessary (cutting out their revenue). Just go after anyone you don't like. Maybe assassinate world wide? Send in combat troops to countries that would have trouble attacking their own foot?
Do they even need GPS to go after us? Citizens are the ones in plain sight.
How many test cases for police state do we need? This Land of Liberty has the most folks in jail, and most of the rest are indentured servants.