October 21, 2010

Global X-Ray Vision... Without a Warrant

Justin Katz

Have you caught wind of this story?

Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old computer salesman and community college student, took his car in for an oil change earlier this month and his mechanic spotted an odd wire hanging from the undercarriage.

The wire was attached to a strange magnetic device that puzzled Afifi and the mechanic. They freed it from the car and posted images of it online, asking for help in identifying it.

Two days later, FBI agents arrived at Afifi's Santa Clara apartment and demanded the return of their property — a global positioning system tracking device now at the center of a raging legal debate over privacy rights.

Even staunch libertarians on the reasonable side of the line to anarchy would probably agree that police agencies ought to have recourse to such technology, given justification. However, at least in some states, equation of GPS trackers with police stakeouts makes warrants unnecessary, and that's a clear violation of privacy rights.

When police tail suspects, there are natural property limits to what they can do. A GPS tracker goes wherever the car goes. That the officer observing the signal may be on public or government property does not mean that he or she should have unchecked access to a sort of global x-ray vision.

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Well, at least it wasn't attached to the undercarriage of a vehicle owned by a sixety-something white female with a St. Christopher on the dashboard.

Posted by: George at October 21, 2010 2:33 PM

Only because she hasn't driven enough miles yet to need an oil change.

Big Sis would have a rule requiring that Muslims can only be GPS tagged proportionately to their share of the total population.

Posted by: BobN at October 21, 2010 3:51 PM

I volunteer for, Meals on Wheels, here in Arizona, if the FBI hides a GPS unit on my car, a lot of senior citizens will find their names on the "No Fly List"


Posted by: Sammy at October 21, 2010 9:36 PM

I am surprised that anyone is surprised. If there were only one fundamental tenent of human behavior, it must be "If it can be done, it will be done". legal constraints will not prevent this; if they would, crime would have disappeared long ago.

On a slow day, sit by a interstate and count the number of motorists in 10,000 that you suspect are speeding. Having acquired that knowledge, try to construct a believeable argument why at least one FBI agent in 10,000 wouldn't "bend the rules".

I suspect that FBI officials were very pleased with the "take", but demanded "plausible deniability". Their answer will be in the nature of "suppose we had discovered another 9-11 plot?" This will be mixed with a legalistic "We didn't violate any specific law", or "The law hasn't caught up with new technology".

So, what do I recommend? Change your oil every three thousand miles. And fire everyone remotely involved.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at October 21, 2010 11:41 PM

This kind of crap is the big government that I fear. Funny how the term gets so narrowly defined.

Very C.R.E.E.P.y, a la Nixon.


Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 22, 2010 12:52 AM

No one has asked WHY the FBI attached it.
Was it random?I kinda doubt it.
I'm not sure how GPS stands in search and seizure law,but the "oil can" case involving tacking bootleggers from years back seems to be a precedent decision- I just can't remember what the Court decided.I must be getting senile from sparring with OTL.
When I was on my job we didn't have GPS.
I know auto/truck rental companies use it,but as private entities they are not limited by the Constitution

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 22, 2010 2:31 AM

Yeah, OTL doesn't like the kind of government that protects us. He just likes the kind of big government that robs us.

Posted by: George at October 22, 2010 2:39 PM
Even staunch libertarians on the reasonable side of the line to anarchy would probably agree that police agencies ought to have recourse to such technology, given justification.

Um no, Justin, surprisingly libertarians are still kind of upset by the idea of living in a police state, although I would agree that the courts, not police agencies, could approve that type of surveillance given reasonable suspicion of wrong doing.

So are there any actual libertarians left out there on this site or just me? To be honest I thought there were a few of you here that would have called the proto-fascists on this one.

Posted by: Russ at October 22, 2010 3:03 PM

Umm, Russ, did you happen to notice that I included the lack of a needed warrant right in the title of my post? Would it have been that difficult of you to read carefully enough to infer that police agencies "having recourse to" such technology would include the process of approaching the judiciary?

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 22, 2010 4:38 PM

Can you spell "obtrusive"?
I'm trying to point out that "big" cuts both ways.

Please remember that your judgment as to what is big and mine do not coincide.

I would also guess that your opinion is the minority one.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 22, 2010 10:45 PM

Ah, on rereading I think I got it. Who said we could never agree on anything?!

Posted by: Russ at October 27, 2010 4:29 PM

The weather service issued a wind advisory from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with northwest winds of 20-25 mph and gusts up to 50 mph, potentially downing trees and power lines. The snow was percentage of a storm system that included tornadoes, and stretched from Michigan to Florida. It has been blamed for seven deaths and tens of thousands of power outages so far. It works as a significant storm in terms of its size and its range of impacts from severe weather to winter weather, said Chris Vaccaro, spokesman for those weather service. Snow started accumulating Wednesday morning around the perimeter of region, blanketing parts of northern Baltimore County and Carroll County with about 3 inches, according to reports made toward the weather service.

Posted by: AnnMurray at December 28, 2012 5:00 AM
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