iFixit & Wired Teardown Of FBI Tracking Device Found On Activist's Car

from the now-that's-a-teardown dept

You may recall a big story from last fall about a guy who found a GPS tracking device on his car (because of a friend’s Reddit comment). The FBI showed up and demanded the device back after the guy had posted on Reddit about it. Of course, lots of people wondered what they would do if they found such a device on their car — with most insisting they would not turn it back over to the FBI.

Well, one woman who actually had found such a device and still had it, read that same story, and decided to give it to Wired, who then teamed up with the teardown experts at iFixit to tear down the device. Wired has a full story about the device and iFixit has the teardown details.

The Wired article also covers some of the ongoing legal battles about such tracking, though as Clive Thompson points out, this idea of sticking a device on cars seems like it’s going to be increasingly outdated, considering that the feds now feel comfortable asking mobile operators to simply hand over location info from phone users, sometimes without a warrant.

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Comments on “iFixit & Wired Teardown Of FBI Tracking Device Found On Activist's Car”

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Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Best answer

Out of all the suggestions given on what to do when one of these is found, I believe that this was the best. Give it to someone that will take it apart and display it to the Internet.

Though, I did like the “attach it to a bus” option.

I know they probably would never track me, but I’m going to start parking in my locked garage (Yeah, I know, that won’t work).

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Best answer

Attach it to a politicians, or LEO’s, or high level govt employee’s vehicle.

I mean if it’s legal for the FBI to attach it to anything without a warrant, thereby not requiring legal authority for any tortuous or criminal defences that may occur by said attaching of device, that then means that any citizen could legally attach it to anything or anyone as well…

Anonymous Coward says:

Silly 9th circuit

“The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled last year that using a GPS tracker was no different than physically trailing a suspect in public”

Except a police officer doesn’t cling to the underside of someone’s bumper.

Doesn’t this run afoul of some sort of trespassing/littering regulations?

Anonymous Coward says:


What I always wonder is if law enforcement has considered all of the implications of making GPS tracking lawful without consent.

Would this not mean that (theoretically) a private citizen (regardless of motives) could then place GPS trackers on law enforcement vehicles? If there is no law preventing it, and the courts rule that it is legal, what would prevent them?

Hiiragi Kagami (profile) says:

24 Hours...

… before one (or all) of the following occurs:
-DMCA takedown notice filed.
-Site is taken down by DoJ
-FBI starts busting down doors

This is such ridiculousness. Sadly, they didn’t fire up the receiver in order to acquire the transmission signal so that it can be blocked/interfered with.

Oh well. It’s probably a good thing these things require massive batteries.

Anonymous Coward says:

The fools are helping the terrorists! Now the terrorists can use this information to do bad things to America! And that’s real bad!

The following is a transcript of a real something that happened because of this:

Mekanik: D00dz. I saw the plans of their GPS tracker on the internet. I hacked it and now I can c them in the map
N00bCamp3r: Oh noes! Now teh t3rror1sts know r seecrits!
** Bang **
[Server]: ** S4ad0w [Headshot] N00bCamp3r **
[Server]: Terrorists Win
S4ad0w: N00b
Mekanik: lOl
N00bCamp3r: Hack3r.
N00bCamp3r: Ch3at3r!!!1111oneone

We must correct this injustice! Only CT’s should be allowed to use cheats!

Anonymous Coward says:

“considering that the feds now feel comfortable asking mobile operators to simply hand over location info from phone users, sometimes without a warrant.”

It’s not like this will stop criminals, any criminal with half a brain will know not to have his cell phone on him when committing a crime.

This will only be used to track good citizens that do nothing wrong.

Ron (profile) says:


What about packing the device into a small box and then send it via FedEx or something to some address in Lebanon or similar. Could be fun for the FBI to track. If it sounds like a good idea maybe we should agree on where to send them all. Then the FBI can start worrying that all their suspects are suddenly gathering at a single location.

aldestrawk says:

There are two interesting aspect to this story:

-The woman who was being tracked by the FBI refused to give the device back when they asked and they just let it go.

-An elderly Arab (US citizen) gentleman had a GPS tracking device installed by his local police department in San Rafael, California. This was in June, 2009 before the 9th circuit decision gave law enforcement clearance to do such tracking without a warrant. The guy had no criminal record, and still doesn’t.
(funny coincidence: San Rafael was where science fiction author P. K. Dick lived when his house was broken into and his files stolen back in 1971.)

Sleepy and disgruntled says:

I want one!

This would make a most excellent tool for my next prank against my arch-rival. What nefarious group do I need to join to get one of my own?

On a serious note:
It seems to me the Feds actually *want* a full-on public backlash. Have they forgotten that We The People have the Constitutional right to remove them- all of them- from power should we find sufficient cause? And, I might add, We The People can do so through the use of force if it becomes necessary. WTF is going on over there, D.C.?

aldestrawk says:

Re: What I Don?t Understand ...

Transmission generally uses the cell phone network. So, transmission is to the nearest cell phone base station, just like a normal cell phone. The better ones can be set for continuous (actually, regular bursts) transmission or to only transmit when the car is moving. Less transmission saves significantly on battery power.

aldestrawk says:

Re: What I Don?t Understand ...

Ah, I see that someone else has pointed out that the transmission is activated remotely and the frequency is outside of the cell network. So this particular tracking device stores information and then when queried remotely by say, an FBI can cruising nearby, there is a brief burst of communication.

Darryl says:

212.059 Mhz

has ANYONE thought of buying a cheap scanner and listening to that frequency ?

Let these hidden trackers come to you ???

You could sit next to a highway and ‘possibly’ find hundreds of these devices.

A couple of people with directional antennas could DF (direction find) them and let them know !! and you could put an end to it. or reduce it..

Darryl says:

Not transmitting all the time.

But no they will not transmit all the time, that would flatten the batteries too quickly.

They would sit in a low power standby mode for most of the time, and would only probably ‘wake up’ and transmit position information when the position is changing.

There is no point in ‘tracking’ a vehice that is parked in a driveway for 18 hours a day.

So it would probably transmit a position location when it first starts to move, and then at specifici times (or distance) after that, until the vehicle stops moving for a period, then it would go back to sleep.

212 Mhz frequency range is perfect for low orbit satellites, and is around the same frequency as EPIRB’s use (rescure beacons).

So it would be easy to just listen on that frequency with a satellite and catch all the uploads from their trackers.

And once you know the frequency, it is trivial to jam the entire system. With a far stronger signal. End of tracking.

(but dont get caught).

Karl (profile) says:

In all fairness...

While I have issues with law enforcement not getting warrants, it does seem that this woman was a valid target. She’s mixed up with some very nasty, violent people. Terrorists come in all shapes, sizes, religions and political belief systems.

Though, my question is this: why aren’t they watching PETA? They are tied up with these groups too.

darryl says:

No extra connections required

Mr Been, there wont be any secondary items, wired to the alarm or the radio, it is not necessary.

first, it is not required to wake up the GPS a simple motion detector or Pinball ’tilt’ switch, or a simple mercury switch would be enough to detect motion and the wake up the system.

another indication that they do not connect to the car’s wiring is the fact that they supply a battery pack with it.
If they were going to connect to the car’s wiring system, they would certainly take the 12V from the battery to ensure the system always works.

Even a solid state gyro like what is in the game consoles would be enough to determine if the car started to move.

When movement is detected, it would fire up the GPS take readings and upload packets of info to the LEOS.

The packet of info would contain a few data points, the Devices ID, the Time, Battery voltage and of course GPS coords.

Once a number of fixes are taken that packet of data would be burst transmitted on 212.059 Mhz and would be received by the satellite.

You dont have to spend time fooling with the wiring of the car you just walk up to the car and attach it to the bumper, then walk away.

It would be far far cheaper than paying a fed to watch the person with a car.

Its a set and forget device, and the packet would inform the feds when the battery would need replacement.

Darryl says:

Spare COMPAS-SARSAT channel

This system does not use the cell phone system, it would use satellites for the recievers.

212.059 Mhz, is right in the range of such services allready.

SARSAT-COSPAS use 121.5Mhz and 243Mhz and the new system uses 406Mhz.

If you dont think the FBI and NSA would have their own satellites performing the same function on their own frequency you are nieve.

The EPIRBS for the 121.5 and 243 Mhz systems use on 0.1 Watt of power for the ‘burst’ transmision (giving long battery life).

the 406Mhz system uses 5 watts of power, even with 5 watts you would get quite long better life. 10 of 1000’s of packets of data.

Cell system would probably not cover all the USA whereas a satellite does.

These beacons can also be tracked from aircraft, or cars as required as well…

So if necessary they do not even have to use the satellite downlink they could recieve it directly.

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