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Two New Fed GPS Trackers Found On SUV 761

Posted by Soulskill
from the take-two-they're-small dept.
jcombel writes with this excerpt: "As the Supreme Court gets ready to hear oral arguments in a case Tuesday that could determine if authorities can track U.S. citizens with GPS vehicle trackers without a warrant, a young man in California has come forward to Wired to reveal that he found not one but two different devices on his vehicle recently. The 25-year-old resident of San Jose, California, says he found the first one about three weeks ago on his Volvo SUV while visiting his mother in Modesto, about 80 miles northeast of San Jose. After contacting Wired and allowing a photographer to snap pictures of the device, it was swapped out and replaced with a second tracking device. A witness also reported seeing a strange man looking beneath the vehicle of the young man’s girlfriend while her car was parked at work, suggesting that a tracking device may have been retrieved from her car. Then things got really weird when police showed up during a Wired interview with the man."
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Two New Fed GPS Trackers Found On SUV

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  • When this reporter drove down to meet Greg and photograph the second tracker with photographer Snyder, three police cars appeared at the location that had been pre-arranged with Greg, at various points driving directly behind me without making any verbal contact before leaving.

    After moving the photo shoot to a Rotten Robbie gas station a mile away from the first location, another police car showed up. In this case, the officer entered the station smiling at me and turned his car around to face the direction of Greg’s car, a couple hundred yards away. He remained there while the device was photographed. A passenger in the police car, dressed in civilian clothes, stepped out of the vehicle to fill a gas container, then the two left shortly before the photo shoot was completed.

    I bet that reporter thought that sort of thing only happened in *other* countries before that day.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:19PM (#37989560)

    What does a citizen have to do to get this kind of personalized attention from the government? Most of the time they just ignore you unless it's time for them to steal money from your wallet.

  • Don't talk to him, HE is the GPS device!

  • Police Ssurveillance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:21PM (#37989578) Journal

    A serious question, one that I hope folks take seriously because I truly cannot answer this:

    If you were in front of the US Supreme Court and they asked you how this is fundamentally different than tracking your car through traditional police surveillance, how would you answer?

    I struggle for an answer myself. It feels wrong, but as far as I can tell that isn't a valid legal argument.

    • Maybe another question is: can police conduct surveillance of any kind without a warrant? I am ignorant on this, and would appreciate some definitive answers...

      • by berashith (222128) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:34PM (#37989772)

        I had been under the impression that there were rules limiting this once, until I was under investigation. The rub was this ... I wasnt really under investigation. If I was, then there would have been a warrant. There was not enough information to get a warrant on me, so the ATF was digging around watching every move I made, trying to figure out what the hell I was up to. The funny bit here is that I was up to nothing, and had to keep proving it.

        I thought that the agent couldnt just sit and watch my house all the time, and he kind of confirmed that, but if I had gone to a movie, he would miraculously appear at my door as I was walking down the sidewalk. This was consistent, and it was obvious what he was doing, but if I questioned him he would give me a line about just happening to show up at the same time. This came complete with a smart ass smirk. So , I never was certain what the rules were, but I knew that I couldnt really get away from the game. The fact of the matter is ( at that time, way pre-9/11) , if the government has a reason to be suspicious they will be. You will have to prove yourself. The way I saw it then is that the system worked, even if it was a bit one sided and crooked.

        • The other thing is that they only need a warrant to collect evidence that can be used in a trial. They can essentially do all the surveillance, tracking, etc. they want to without a warrant, then when they have a good idea of where to go to get the evidence they need in court (whether because they learned it through surveillance or planted it themselves) then they get the warrant to collect the evidence they will use against you in court.

          The only magical thing about a warrant is that it makes the evidenc
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      The difference is they attach something to your property. They also don't have the restriction of manpower.

      If we take your argument at face value, why not install these devices on all cars during the inspection? or when sold?

      • by Shatrat (855151)

        They also don't have the restriction of manpower.

        There's no law requiring the executive branch to be inefficient.

        If we take your argument at face value, why not install these devices on all cars during the inspection?

        That's not the argument. The question he is posing is how tracking this single individual by GPS is any less legitimate than tracking him with an officer in an unmarked car.

        • by h4rr4r (612664) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:42PM (#37989926)

          There should be such a law. You show me an efficient government and I will show you an oppressive one.

          I was just following that logic to its inevitable conclusion.

          A better answer would be the police could not follow him across state lines, nor onto private property. This device might. This device also is consuming the victims fuel to be transported and may be wired into his car risking damage to the electrical system.

        • The question he is posing is how tracking this single individual by GPS is any less legitimate than tracking him with an officer in an unmarked car.

          The difference is that anyone can follow you around in an unmarked car on public property. Attaching a device of any sort to someone else's property, however, is normally illegal. Permission to do something which would normally be illegal is known as a warrant, and there are very specific rules regarding the situations under which warrants can be issued.

    • by Riceballsan (816702) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:27PM (#37989666)
      24/7 Surveillance on both public and private property perhaps? Traditional surveillance has limits of where and when they can monitor you. A GPS on the other hand is monitoring you 24/7 regardless of district, private/public property etc...
    • * With GPS devices, the accused is forced to pay for his own surveillance (the extra gas to move the GPS device around town), not the police.
      * Traditional police surveillance requires the police to invest effort and money into the surveillance, so they can only follow probable leads. With GPS surveillance, they are not forced to constrain their surveillance to the scope of the case, and can track hundreds or thousands of people (with minimal or no connection to the crime) without expending any extra effort.

      • by loshwomp (468955)

        With GPS devices, the accused is forced to pay for his own surveillance (the extra gas to move the GPS device around town)

        (Emphasis mine.)

        I'm pretty sympathetic to "the accused" in these cases, but I sure hope you don't expect to prevail based on the above premise.

        • but I sure hope you don't expect to prevail based on the above premise.

          of course not.

          since, you need to account for the weight and wind resistance of the wiring, too.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Try harder. Its cheap and therefore more universal, that's what makes it fundamentally different.

      • by ClintJCL (264898)
        "Easier" and "more universal" does NOT constitute "fundamentally different". No judge would buy that argument either. Technology makes things easier, that doesn't mean you make those things harder to do. Overruled.
        • by inviolet (797804) <slashdot AT ideasmatter DOT org> on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @04:25PM (#37990816) Journal

          "Easier" and "more universal" does NOT constitute "fundamentally different". No judge would buy that argument either. Technology makes things easier, that doesn't mean you make those things harder to do. Overruled.

          Bruce Schneier has addressed this exact issue. He did a good job explaining it by drawing our attention to the difference between these two police activities:

          • * officers randomly punch license plates into their computer to check for stolen cars, arrest warrants, etc.
          • * automatic cameras mounted on the roof of police cars read and check a thousand license plates per hour per police cruiser

          The difference is that we, as a society, consented to the low-grade surveillance of police officers driving around personally observing us... but the latter approach, with its many technological and informational advances, is a level of surveillance that we did not consent to, and WOULD NOT have consented to when we originally consented to the low-tech approach.

          A good reason to withhold consent is that the collected information is not universally accessible. The information is kept by law enforcement for their own use. It will be used to prove you guilty, but you cannot use it (or even learn of its existence) to prove yourself not-guilty. It worsens the already serious power disparity between citizens and the executive branch.

    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:28PM (#37989682)

      If you were in front of the US Supreme Court and they asked you how this is fundamentally different than tracking your car through traditional police surveillance, how would you answer?

      In the same way that listening to a conversation by bugging a person is considered different from listening in on their conversation from a nearby table in a restaurant. One involves the compromise of someone's personal property and effects (protected by the 4th amendment) and the other doesn't.

      • by jamesh (87723)

        If you were in front of the US Supreme Court and they asked you how this is fundamentally different than tracking your car through traditional police surveillance, how would you answer?

        In the same way that listening to a conversation by bugging a person is considered different from listening in on their conversation from a nearby table in a restaurant. One involves the compromise of someone's personal property and effects (protected by the 4th amendment) and the other doesn't.

        Expectation of privacy is what's different. If you are sitting at home having a conversion you can reasonably expect that your conversation is private, and if a policeman was standing in your lounge room jotting down what you were saying then you'd know about it. You don't have the same expectation in a restaurant.

        Sort of the same with GPS tracking on your car - if you are in the middle of nowhere with nobody around then you can reasonably expect that it's safe to do your drug exchange and nobody can easily

    • by ALeavitt (636946)
      This doesn't require an officer or a police car - it is a cheap piece of equipment that can be produced and purchased in large quantities. The only limit to the ability of the police to surveil the citizenry would be limited only by the procurement budget, and would be far less limited than it is today. Further, these devices are easily concealed, whereas a police car, even an unmarked one, is far harder to hide. Essentially these devices give the police nigh-infinite, limitless, covert surveillance capabil
    • by sckienle (588934)
      Also, traditional surveillance can be seen, with care, and cannot follow you onto private property. GPS trackers do not have those limitations. May not be a big difference, but one non-the-less.
    • by anyGould (1295481)

      If you were in front of the US Supreme Court and they asked you how this is fundamentally different than tracking your car through traditional police surveillance, how would you answer?

      A couple points I could make:

      • This is something that I am being held responsible for against my will (note how they tend to be very aggressive in retrieving these devices). It would be considered improper to force someone to document their whereabouts 24/7, and this does the same thing by automated means.
      • Further to this, it's modifying my property without my consent - if it's illegal for me to attach one of these to another vehicle, it should also be illegal for the police to do so without a warrant.
      • Tradi
      • by McKing (1017)

        I doubt anyone really wants to deprive law enforcement of any tools used to truly catch criminals, but we want to make sure the there is judicial oversight involved. If you don't have enough probable cause to get a warrant, then all you are doing is fishing. Once you invest the human time and effort into obtaining probable cause and a warrant, then use GPS to your heart's content!

    • by pipedwho (1174327) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:41PM (#37989908)

      Would it be ok if a cop hid in the boot of your car without a warrant instead?

    • by Zakabog (603757)

      The police are actively handling your property. It's like if they installed a gps tracker on your shoes, or your shirt, or maybe they walk up to your kid at school and attach a device to their bookbag. They don't have a right to do that. Just like they don't have a right to attach a traditional surveillance camera to your house to watch your neighbors. If they wanted to follow your car that's one thing as they'd just be driving legally on public roads. The fact is that they're attaching a device to your pro

    • One is obvious, the other isn't. If I, as a law-abiding citizen, notice the cops following me around, I'm probably going to find out why (honestly and non-confrontationally if possible). A tracking device is hidden, and therefore is being used without my knowledge.

      IMHO, both are invasive and should be non-permissible without warrants; both violate the 4th amendment. As if the Constitution means anything anymore.
      • by SETIGuy (33768) *

        I, as a law-abiding citizen, notice the cops following me around, I'm probably going to find out why (honestly and non-confrontationally if possible).

        You do realize that they are going to treat you like the dirt bag they think you are. If they're following you, or if they've put a GPS tracker on your car, you're already convicted in their minds. They're just looking for a way for the DA to convince a judge and jury.

  • by bazmail (764941) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:22PM (#37989604)
    Americans fear their government more now than at any time in history. Kind of funny if your from foreignland.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:32PM (#37989726)

      Americans fear their government more now than at any time in history. Kind of funny if your from foreignland.

      Well, the american government fucked over entire nations in the course of the last 50 years, it is poetic justice that in the last years they have turned their attention to fucking over their own citizens instead.
      Whats good for the goose is good for the gander no ?

    • by dougmc (70836)

      Americans fear their government more now than at any time in history.

      I don't know about that. We certainly do fear our government a lot now, but more than at any time in history?

      When the Constitution was being written, the authors were extremely worried about overreaching government.
      During Prohibition, alcohol was still commonly used, but there was the fear of the government finding out.
      During the Communism scare, many lives were ruined just because politicians would claim that you were a Communist.
      The CIA, FBI and NSA have been known to violate people's rights for decades

      • Uh, yeah - afraid he's right. All the examples you give happened during eras that pale in comparison to now. You have exactly zero personal freedom in the US today; the government can (and does) arrest and detain (without limit) its own citizens for no apparent reason and holds them indefinitely without trial. That fact alone makes the former statement you're questioning valid.
        • by OzPeter (195038)

          ... the government can (and does) arrest and detain (without limit) its own citizens for no apparent reason and holds them indefinitely without trial. ...

          You left off "Assassinate"

    • by jd (1658)

      Americans fear their government and so work to protect themselves accordingly. Americans become the next government, which now believes that a paranoid, armed citizenry fears them, and so work to protect themselves accordingly. Americans discover these new protections, with the result that they fear their government even more.

      Does the term "vicious cycle" mean anything to you guys? Or, since we're geeks, "positive feedback loop"?

      When both sides of a debate fear each other and, in their efforts to protect th

      • by khallow (566160)
        The problem with your argument is simply that the government side has demonstrated that it will abuse any power it gets. The solution is niether the "vicious cycle" nor the embracing of gullibility, but merely reducing the power of government.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by uigrad_2000 (398500)

      Americans fear their government more now than at any time in history. Kind of funny if your from foreignland.

      You don't know much about American history, then.

      200 years ago, The Federalist Party wanted a strong centralized government, and couldn't compete with the Democrat-Republican Party. People opposed any expansion of government at the time, and the idea that the federal government could run their own bank and carry their own debt was so hated by people that they lost every election from 1800 to 1820,

      • by ukemike (956477)

        If US citizens feared the government just half as much as they did 100 years ago, then we wouldn't have HUD. We wouldn't have the TSA. The FDA would only regulate selling drugs with incorrect labels, and there would be no banned substances list. We wouldn't have government schools. We wouldn't have the DMV. We wouldn't have Food Stamps or Welfare. We wouldn't have government backed student loans or government backed car companies. Our cars would not need to pass emission testing, and would not be limited by cafe standards. Our showers could put out any amount of water that the customer chose, and we wouldn't have laws regulating what method we use for generating light in our houses. And no one would even think of trying to implement government health care.

        Housing for the poor would still be tenement style, it would be impossible to tell the legitimate over the counter drugs from the latest patent medicine scam, a decent education would not be available to the poor or minorities, the DVMs are state institutions and we probably would still have them, millions more children would go hungry on a regular basis, a college education would be available only to the rich, our air would be unbreathably filthy, our water would be poison, we'd already be facing oil and

  • No problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mr1911 (1942298) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:29PM (#37989692)
    If you find a device like this on your car, have fun with it. Ship it across country - the government will know where the UPS guy is. Smash it open to see what is inside. Sell it on eBay. Report it to your local Sheriff as a suspicious device.

    Seriously though...
    Having cops follow you around to make their presence known is one hell of a way to use a covert surveillance device. The story isn't quite adding up.
  • As a "foreigner" who emigrated to this country and likes to make a lot of jokes that could be taken out of context- I am almost positive that I must have been spied on- if not more than for a short period of time to realise how boring I am.

  • 1) Find a place where trains pass somewhat slowly
    2) Wait for slow moving train
    3) Stick tracker on outside of train car

    • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:43PM (#37989960) Homepage Journal
      4) Get ticketed for destruction of US Government property.
      • by IMightB (533307) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:49PM (#37990090) Journal

        How do you know it's gov property? There's no identification on it. It's stuck to your property. I'd say you own it and are free to do with it as you please.

      • by OzPeter (195038)

        4) Get ticketed for destruction of US Government property.

        "Honest officer, the reason I am stopped here is that I was driving over that bumpy railroad crossing when I saw something fall off the back of my car. I was going to go back and look for it, but this train came through right there and then. After it had gone I couldn't see any car parts lying on the track."

      • So you're saying that a covert operation would open itself to scrutiny to sue you over a couple hundred dollar device?

        Or would they just try to put another one on the car?

        Besides, unless you have it under visual surveillance...how do you prove *who* did what with it? And if you have it under visual surveillance 24/7..what's the point of the device in the first place?
    • by Amouth (879122)

      or you could just pick a seedly company online from columbia/nigera and fedex it to them..

      at first they are going to wonder how you have a flying car - then they are going to wonder where your sending it - then why you picked it..

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I think I'd rather make them work a bit harder to get it back. I'd go to a party supply store, buy a big bunch of helium balloons, and send their tracker on a slow gentle float out of the city at 5,000 feet. This would be especially effective on days where the wind is heading offshore...
  • by KyoMamoru (985449)

    In the article, it's stated that he bought the vehicle with cash from his wanted, drug dealing cousin. He even went as far to drive his cousin's wife to Mexico in the vehicle afterwards. It's no wonder that he was under surveillance.

  • I'd just smash it up and toss it.

    If they send you a bill, send one back charging them more than their bill.

    • Now you're a criminal for destroying government property and interfering with an investigation. Your life is ruined.

      • by swb (14022)

        Does it come with a sticker that says "OFFICIAL US GOVERNMENT PROPERTY"?

        Assuming its just some random object, I don't see how they can hold you responsible for it.

  • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:43PM (#37989966)

    Are there any scanning devices to scan your car to see if you have one of these hidden somewhere?

    I'm sure you can do a thorough search from time to time- but if I want to know if I have one- is there a device I can buy to scan my car that isn't expensive?

    I suspect all the bad guys who are really trying to hide will just run GPS blockers on their cars.

    • by PPH (736903)

      Are there any scanning devices to scan your car to see if you have one of these hidden somewhere?

      Sort of. Most of these periodically report in their recorded data via GPRS [wikipedia.org] or something similar. There are ways of detecting these communications. I have a cheap pocket FM radio that goes absolutely berserk whenever a nearby GSM or CDMA phone or other device transmits. It makes a pretty good wireless device detector. Of course, there are more professional ways of detecting such equipment.

      If its a GPS only device with memory, there is no transmission to detect. But since the box will have to be recovered b

  • eBay!!

  • by Phoenix666 (184391) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:45PM (#37990012)

    have no expectation of privacy and can be tracked at will by the police, do police therefore have no expectation of privacy and can be tracked at will by citizens? Sounds like a great argument. Think I'll run out, buy a bunch of these trackers, and stick them to the undercarriages of cop cars and then set up a web site that reports the position of every cop car in the city at all times in case you, um, need to call the cops.

    Either that must be the case, or cops must get a warrant to do this.

    If neither is the case, then the only option left to Americans is to fire every single person in every level of government with extreme prejudice, convene a constitutional convention, and start all over again from scratch.

  • OK... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Carik (205890) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @03:53PM (#37990170)

    So I agree that warrantless tracking is a bad thing. Let's get that out of the way right at the beginning.

    What baffles me in this case is that they COULD HAVE GOTTEN A WARRANT!

    Look. The guy's cousin is on the run for drug charges, possibly involving drug smuggling. Before taking off, he sells his car to this guy, who waits a month or two, then drives to Mexico, stays a few days, and then drives back. I'm not saying any of that is damning, but it would certainly raise questions in my mind if I were the local DEA or police representative. And assuming they had any evidence at all on the guy who fled the country, that ought to be enough to get a warrant to do some minimally invasive tracking. (Yes, it's invasive. But there isn't a person staring through his window all night, there's not an actual person following him around all the time, and so on.)

    So why not go ask for a warrant? For that matter, why not ask for a warrant to do more checking on this guy and his cousin? THAT'S what bothers me about the whole thing. They had no particular reason to be underhanded about any of it, but they chose to anyway.

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