iFixit teardown of GPS device reveals scary gov’t surveillance tactics

In the recent dissection of a GPS device used by law enforcement to track suspect’s vehicles, iFixit basically said it all when they said: “…in its presence, we can almost feel our civil liberties being flushed down the toilet.”

You and me both, brother. The take-apart site was quick to add a disclaimer to the inevitable roving eye of Big Brother when it detailed the function of the GPS device currently being used by the FBI without warrants:

We love the FBI. We’ve worked with them on several occasions to fight crime and locate criminals. We’ve helped them with instructions on gaining entry into certain devices. We have nothing against them, and we hope they don’t come after us for publishing this teardown.

Among the scary details uncovered by the site:

  • The devices have a battery life of about 10 to 20 years and run on D-cells;
  • They’ve been on the market since the summer of 1999;
  • As of now, such maneuvers are 100% legal

“Wait a second,” you may be saying as you read that, “I ain’t passed the bar but I know a little bit, enough so you don’t illegally search my shit.” Yes, the fourth amendment to the Constitution protects all Americans from illegal shit-searching, but a ruling last year by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals uses technology to undermine that long-standing right taken for granted by most Americans and paves the way for unfettered law enforcement GPS tracking of any Americans.

It was argued that 24-hour surveillance such as that made possible by a GPS device is impossible without the technology, and using GPS technology to track suspects effectively obliterates the need for a warrant- but the judges disagreed. Fortunately, says TIME, not all judges have such little regard for the Bill of Rights:

…other courts are coming to a different conclusion from the Ninth Circuit’s — including the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That court ruled, also this month, that tracking for an extended period of time with GPS is an invasion of privacy that requires a warrant. The issue is likely to end up in the Supreme Court.

Hopefully, reasonable policy will evolve to deal with the ability to track Americans’ movements versus the actual right of law enforcement to do so. Scarily, it is dependent on justices’ ability to understand how exactly these technologies stand to impinge on Constitutional rights, and judicial opinions don’t always match up with fact.

Do you think law enforcement should get a pass for this kind of amendment-bending? If you have to follow the law to the letter, why don’t they?