Another Court Says Police Don't Violate The Law In Putting A GPS Device On Your Car

from the tracking-you-in-public? dept

We first discussed this issue way back in 2003, wondering whether it was really a violation of privacy for police to put a GPS tracking device on a suspect's car. In 2005, a court said it was perfectly legal, though there were concerns about what this meant. We're seeing the same concerns as another court has ruled the same way. The reasoning and the logic is effectively the same: if you are traveling on public roads, anyone could (theoretically) drive behind you and see where you are going -- even without a warrant. So is it really a violation of privacy if that tracking is done by a little black box attached to your car instead of a big black box with four wheels?

Of course, the flipside to that, is that if you are driving you can also see (for the most part) if there is another car following you and that other car cannot follow you onto private property that you own. A hidden GPS device is quite different on those points. So while the courts seem to be coming down on the side of this not being a violation of privacy, I can definitely see where privacy advocates are troubled by these rulings. The fact that they effectively suggest the police can simply put a hidden GPS device on any car for no reason at all raises plenty of questions -- especially in an era when information can and is regularly abused.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2009 @ 2:47pm

    Also, physical tracking is impossible to use on a large scale 24/7, but this ruling opens up the possibility of tracking every vehicle via GPS. Probably not intended, hopefully won't happen, but it would be stupid to ignore the possibility.

     

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  2.  
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    :Lobo Santo, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:00pm

    Re:

    Wouldn't ANYBODY doing this be guilty of trespassing, intent to commit mischief, or some other actionable offense?
    I'm pretty sure it's legal to shoot somebody who's trying to "steal your car"... What if that somebody was an out-of-uniform OR "undercover" cop?
    Some dumb cop is going to get shot--and the person who was in the right is going to go to jail for it.

     

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  3.  
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    Rob, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:12pm

    Is this not already being done with OnStar and cell phone E911? I would imagine that all they have to do is pass on your license number and OnStar can track the car..

     

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  4.  
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    Clueby4, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:17pm

    Finding the device

    Why do I get the feeling they would take the hypocritical stance that if a person found the device and either disabled, redeployed, or destroy it they would take issue with such actions.

     

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  5.  
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    Paul Brinker, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:22pm

    If I found a transmiter

    I would go with the removal and atachment to a differnt car, or random airplane or even a bird. let the cops follow it for a few days/ weeks and then try to pin all kinds of crimes on me when the GPS shows up at various places around the city.

    It would definatly fubar a lot of investigations when it becomes known cops use GPS trackers.

     

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  6.  
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    deathByChiChi, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:23pm

    Unreasonable Search

    How surreptitiously installing GPS trackers on peoples' cars is not an "unreasonable search" under the fourth amendment is unfathomable.

    Perhaps if one were installed on Justice Scalia's car, we would get a rethink on this from the courts.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:31pm

    We have no right to privacy. Read the constitution, the word is not mention.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:32pm

    Re: Re:

    You can only use deadly force to prevent the taking of a human life. I learned this when I obtained my CCW. The law has respect for human life, and if you really think about it, a car is not worth a human life.

     

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  9.  
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    AC, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:35pm

    Redepoly

    If someone where to find it, My guess is they would have on option that the police would think was legal, which would be to drop it off at the nearest police station. I'm of the opinion that possibly redeploying it to which ever patrol car happens to be nearest would be most interesting.

     

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  10.  
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    Haywood, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: depends where you live

    Here you can blast away if they are on your property and you feel threatened, and I have a low threshold for that.

     

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  11.  
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    The infamous Joe, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:41pm

    Turn about is fair play

    There's more of us than them. Let's place GPS on all the police cars, so we are warned because speeding past them.

    I mean, it's not an invasion of privacy, right?

     

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  12.  
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    travis, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:47pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    actually it depends on the state in ny you can use deadly force if some one breaks in to your house, to prevent a murder or rape.

     

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  13.  
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    Analyst (profile), May 11th, 2009 @ 3:51pm

    Seems legal ... with limits

    I'd challenge that this should be treated like phone tapping, and require a court order.

     

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  14.  
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    NullOp, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:56pm

    Tracking

    Tracking a SUSPECT, on which a WARRANT has been obtained, is certainly not a violation of anyone's privacy. However, police being what they are, there are bound to be moments when this requirement is forgotten.

     

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  15.  
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    CmdrOberon, May 11th, 2009 @ 4:19pm

    Re: Unreasonable Search

    Bugging someone's personal property without a warrant is an illegal search.
    Putting an electronic listening device into someone's car w/o a warrant is the same.

    Why can they attach an active listening device to a car without a warrant?
    It should be tresspassing at the very least. A creative attorney should be able to disallow the evidence based on the 5th Admendment -- you don't have to incriminate yourself. Also, everyone should demand the source code to the entire system to make sure it's working properly.

    I am not surprised with this decision, however. It goes right along with
    the rest of the decisions like "Can I search your bag, sir?", "No, officer, you may not.". "Well, yes I may. Why? Because I have probable cause now."

     

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  16.  
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    NanookOfTheWest, May 11th, 2009 @ 4:23pm

    Apply the Logic

    If the courts really believe the logic suggested here,
    they will hold that putting a tracker on a police vehicle
    is equally legal: already publicly observable. Anybody wanna try that? Hah!

     

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  17.  
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    Thomas, May 11th, 2009 @ 4:24pm

    Re: If I found a transmiter

    Put the transmitter on a vicious dog.

     

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  18.  
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    Curtis, May 11th, 2009 @ 4:28pm

    Property rights

    Is this not the same as police mounting a surveillance camera to the outside of your home to look in the window whenever you opened your curtains? How do the courts justify attaching a surveillance device to your personal property without a warrant?

     

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  19.  
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    DCX2, May 11th, 2009 @ 4:29pm

    The Feds can't do this...

    The date is 9/10/2008. A case moves through the Federal Appeals court in the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The feds are trying to get access to cell phone location data without a warrant - similar to this case, where they attach a GPS device to get location data without a warrant.

    The Honorable District Court Judge Terrence F. McVerry ruled that the feds need to go get a warrant to track your location via cell phone.

     

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  20.  
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    DCX2, May 11th, 2009 @ 4:30pm

    Re: The Feds can't do this...

     

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  21.  
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    zcat, May 11th, 2009 @ 4:42pm

    Re: Finding the device

    Damned if I can find the link but ISTR someone in NZ found a police tracking device on this car, removed the SIM card and attempted to sell it on the NZ auction site Trademe.

    The police were not amused.

     

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  22.  
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    Pauli, May 11th, 2009 @ 4:53pm

    More like a drone following you than a car

    A car may not be able to follow you onto private property buy a drone or chopper chould.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2009 @ 4:54pm

    This makes no sense at all to me. As far as I know, there is no law preventing me from following a cop around and listening in on his conversations. How is this any different than me placing a listening device on his uniform?

    I'm just playing devil's advocate here but since I can follow anyone around I like (barring a restraining order) does that mean I can also put GPS tracking / listening devices on normal, ordinary people?

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2009 @ 4:56pm

    Drone

    Pauli....is that accurate? If I have a RC helicopter can I fly it outside my neighbors window all day long?

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Bill, May 11th, 2009 @ 5:22pm

    #2 Lobo Santo

    It is not legal to shoot someone trying to steal your car. You are only allowed to shoot someone if you are in mortal danger, which does not include car theft. I had a buddy tell me once when he served on a Grand Jury that they indicted several people for just that very offense!

     

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  26.  
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    mike42 (profile), May 11th, 2009 @ 5:43pm

    Re: #2 Lobo Santo

    It depends on the state, as mentioned above. In Florida, if you feel threatened in any way, you can open up.

    Murder is a state crime, not a Federal one.

     

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  27.  
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    CleverName, May 11th, 2009 @ 6:10pm

    abandoned property

    What is the length of time before abandoned property statutes take affect?
    Probably varies from state to state.
    I think this would be applicable, but then IANAL

     

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  28.  
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    RD, May 11th, 2009 @ 6:39pm

    Bullsh*t

    "It is not legal to shoot someone trying to steal your car. You are only allowed to shoot someone if you are in mortal danger, which does not include car theft. I had a buddy tell me once when he served on a Grand Jury that they indicted several people for just that very offense!"

    So...its illegal to use a gun to ward off the thief, so de-facto, car theft is legal. Because how ELSE are you going to stop someone, definitively, from stealing your car? Ask them to go away? Yeah right, they will laugh as they drive off. And since anything less than the threat of deadly force (which is illegal) means someone can take your car, its now legal to take cars.

     

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  29.  
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    Freedom, May 11th, 2009 @ 8:43pm

    Re: Turn about is fair play

    >> There's more of us than them. Let's place GPS on all the police cars, so we are warned because speeding past them.

    I'll donate to this cause. Just like the speed cameras - good for us, good for them :)

    While we are at it, let's make sure that the government agencies no longer get to purchase equipment tax free, no more free vehicle registration/property taxes, no state run retirement/health plans, etc. In short, let them live with the laws/world they've created for us. After all, if it is good for us, it is good for them.

    By the way, don't even talk about Health Insurance reform until the Congress agrees to use whatever health care system they create for us.

    Freedom

     

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  30.  
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    Jesse, May 11th, 2009 @ 10:27pm

    Well then there is no reason that that police watching civilian groups cant put gps devices on squad cars, right? Can civilians then track high profile politicians with these devices??

     

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  31.  
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    Jesse, May 11th, 2009 @ 10:33pm

    I like the idea of finding it and selling it on ebay.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    SlackerSlayer, May 12th, 2009 @ 12:47am

    GPS hidden on cars

    Some one above said "we do not have the right to privacy".

    sorry but that is what the "Liberty" word is used for. What is liberty?

    ▸ noun: freedom of choice ("Liberty of opinion")
    ▸ noun: personal freedom from servitude or confinement or
    oppression
    ▸ noun: immunity from arbitrary exercise of authority:
    political independence
    ▸ noun: leave granted to a sailor or naval officer
    ▸ noun: an act of undue intimacy

    Take it this way. When the sailor is given liberty, does the Officer follow him to and fro? (maybe in todays brotherhood) No. That sailor has the right to go about anywhere he wants to without being bugged by the officer. This sir, entailes privacy.


    Some also say it would not be ok to shoot someone tampering with your car. Well you go confront them, when they do anything but appologize and beg servitude, you need to defend yourself. Sorry officer, but you took on an unlawful act for your unlawful enforcement of illegal law(s).

    Do they place these on rapists cars, bank robbery suspects, any other "criminal" but drug laws related survilance?

    Unconstitutional laws require unconstitutional practices.

     

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  33.  
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    Jake, May 12th, 2009 @ 1:56am

    Re:

    Here in the UK the law's somewhat tighter on self-defense, but a plainclothes officer who got roughed up whilst planting one of these things as a result of being mistaken for a car thief would get very little sympathy from the courts nowadays. I doubt the evidence obtained from such a device could even be used in court in this country, since for some bizarre reason even wire-tapping evidence obtained with a warrant is inadmissible.

     

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  34.  
    icon
    jeadly (profile), May 12th, 2009 @ 5:53am

    Re:

    Yeah, this is like the difference between a wire tap and someone sitting in the room trying to listen to your phone call. One is surreptitious and should require a warrant.

     

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  35.  
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    jeadly (profile), May 12th, 2009 @ 5:55am

    Re: Bullsh*t

    Just because you aren't qualified to enforce the law doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    Vincent Clement, May 12th, 2009 @ 6:20am

    Re:

    OnStar is voluntary. You enter into a contract with OnStar. And, yes OnStar has tracking capability. But that information can only be released on consent of the owner or via a court order.

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    BTR1701, May 12th, 2009 @ 6:46am

    Re: Re: Re: Deadly Force

    > You can only use deadly force to prevent
    > the taking of a human life. I learned this
    > when I obtained my CCW.

    That's only true in 48 states. Two states-- Alaska and Texas-- allow for the use of deadly force in defense of property.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    BTR1701, May 12th, 2009 @ 6:50am

    Re: Unreasonable Search

    > Perhaps if one were installed on Justice
    > Scalia's car, we would get a rethink on
    > this from the courts.

    Neither Scalia nor the court he serves on made the ruling at issue here.

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    BTR1701, May 12th, 2009 @ 6:54am

    Re: #2 Lobo Santo

    > It is not legal to shoot someone trying to
    > steal your car. You are only allowed to
    > shoot someone if you are in mortal danger

    That's only true in 48 states. Two states-- Alaska and Texas-- allow for the use of deadly force in defense of property.

     

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  40.  
    identicon
    Greg G, May 12th, 2009 @ 7:19am

    Re: Re: Re:

    So, why aren't homeowners prosecuted when someone is only "breaking in" to their house? The intruder is not currently threatening to take a human life, but the homeowner is allowed to shoot to kill, thus protecting his property.

    The punk trying to steal MY car better value his own life over my vehicle, or he will lose said life. *I* will not suffer (insurance hassles, time lost from work, etc.) just because someone wanted my car for free.

    And, back on topic. If any law comes out where GPS can be put on vehicles, I will have it disabled/removed ASAP.

     

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  41.  
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    fprintf, May 12th, 2009 @ 8:48am

    Hassles from showing/using a gun

    If you are worried about the hassles and time committment from having to replace or otherwise fix your car, you haven't seen what happens to someone who shows or uses a gun in most states. The time and money you will need to spend defending yourself in court against the theif or their family, or otherwise against the police if they judge the situation did not warrant the use of a gun, is ridiculous. I know of several people who have legitimately drawn a handgun in a legal CCW state, not fired it, and have been inappropriately charged with brandishing a weapon. It has taken them months to clear everything up and return life to normal. Life would have been easier for them to let what was about to happen occur.

     

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  42.  
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    Dave, May 12th, 2009 @ 8:50am

    Re: GPS device on car

    I agree with you Rob. It is almost certainly possible today for the police (and possibly otheres) to locate and/or track your whereabouts via OnStar and I'm not so sure that anyone has cause to complain about being tracked.

    Autos have always had serial numbers and license plates for the putpose of identification. Every state in the U.S. requires a visible, readable license plate that declares traceable info about the vehicle. Gps is merely a more efficient method of doing the same. I believe we can expect a time in the near future when this type of device will be built into every vehicle at the point of its manufacture.

    I believe it has already been determined by the SCOTUS that there is no expectatoion of privacy in public. That means anytime you are not inside your home or a changing room, toilet stall or simular location, you can expect to be observed, possibly filmed or otherwise be under surveillance. It's a brave new world...

     

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  43.  
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    Michael, May 12th, 2009 @ 9:16am

    Better than future ex wife!

    Better the cops than some sleezy gumshoe working for your future ex wife!

     

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  44.  
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    Cold, May 12th, 2009 @ 12:11pm

    Public vs Private

    How would they know your going to stay on public roadways and property? If you were to go on to private property, wouldn't that equal to trespassing? Thats what it would take (short of a helicopter or satellite) to continue to get that information. The police can't just walk onto your property to look around.

     

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  45.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2009 @ 1:37pm

    Re: Tracking

    However, police being what they are, there are bound to be moments when this requirement is forgotten.

    Except that requirement doesn't exist.

     

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  46.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2009 @ 1:41pm

    Re:

    As far as I know, there is no law preventing me from following a cop around and listening in on his conversations. How is this any different than me placing a listening device on his uniform?

    You have got to be kidding. Just try doing that sometime and find out what happens.

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2009 @ 2:15pm

    Re: Drone

    Pauli....is that accurate? If I have a RC helicopter can I fly it outside my neighbors window all day long?

    The U.S. Supreme Court has declared the navigable airspace above a property to be "a public highway" and within the "public domain". The FCC generally sets that altitude at 500 feet, with some exceptions (such as take off and landing). So below 500 feet is generally private property.

     

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  48.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2009 @ 2:19pm

    Re: Re: Drone

    What I meant was 500 feet above people and man made structures.

     

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  49.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2009 @ 2:21pm

    Re: Bullsh*t

    Because how ELSE are you going to stop someone, definitively, from stealing your car? Ask them to go away?

    They say you're supposed to call the police.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    identicon
    John, Jul 24th, 2009 @ 1:35am

    Simple way to combat police placing GPS tracker device on your car

    Just tap GPS/Cellphone blocker into google. These devices block out GPS and cellphone signals reaching the car in the case of GPS and reaching & leaving the car in the case of cellphone signals.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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