Monday, February 27, 2012

FBI has difficulty locating, recovering disabled GPS trackers after SCOTUS ruling

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that warrantless GPS tracking is unconstitutional, the FBI is taking action --- by disabling thousands of thus illegally-used GPS tracking devices that were in use.

In the ruling, in U.S. v. Jones, the Supreme Court determined that using a device to track a car owner without a search warrant violated the law. A District of Columbia drug dealer, Antoine Jones was the subject of 28 day of warrantless GPS surveillance, and the Supreme Court chose to take up the case after numerous conflicting federal and appeals court decisions, including one from August of 2010 which upheld warrantless GPS tracking, in which dissenting judge Alex Kozinski said that "1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it's here at last."

On Friday, FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissmann, speaking at a University of San Francisco conference called "Big Brother in the 21st Century," said that the Supreme Court ruling caused the FBI to disable about 3,000 GPS devices.

As the devices were often stuck beneath vehicles in order to track the movements of their owners, the FBI had some difficulty recovering the disabled devices, as they could no longer find their locations. Weissman said that, ironically, in some cases, the FBI was forced to obtain court orders in order to turn the devices on briefly, so that authorities could find and recover them.

Although all nine justices agreed that the GPS tracking was unconstitutional, there was some nuance to the decision. Five justices said physically attaching a GPS device to the underside of a car amounted to trespassing and was a search requiring a warrant. Meanwhile, four justices said the prolonged length of time in the Jones case amounted to a search requiring a warrant, but did not affirm whether or not GPS monitoring for shorter periods would require a warrant.

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