FBI Turns Back On 2,750 Of The 3,000 GPS Devices It Turned Off For Lack Of A Warrant

from the spy-spy-spy-away dept

In January, we wrote about the Supreme Court’s somewhat surprising ruling on GPS monitoring by law enforcement, in which it suggested (but didn’t fully say) that putting a GPS device on a car might need a warrant — a pretty easy process that the FBI just didn’t want to go through. Following this, we noted a report saying that the FBI scrambled to turn off 3,000 such devices that had been placed without a warrant.

However, in an NPR report about just how unhappy the FBI is about all of this, it notes that the FBI actually scrambled to file for warrants on most of those 3,000 devices, such that only 250 were permanently shut off. And yet it’s still complaining about this whole “getting a warrant” thing. As Tim Lee notes, FBI director Robert Mueller is basically complaining to Congress that it’s just so hard:

In Congressional testimony last month, FBI Director Robert Meuller said the ruling “will inhibit our ability” to do GPS tracking “in a number of surveillances where it has been tremendously beneficial.” Mueller said that in cases where they didn’t have probable cause, the FBI is forced to deploy teams of six to eight people to track suspects the old-fashioned way.

“If you require probable cause for every technique, then you are making it very, very hard for law enforcement,” an FBI lawyer told NPR.

But, uh, isn’t that why we require a warrant? It’s supposed to be hard to spy on people. That’s kind of one of the key principles of the Constitution. Again, as Lee notes:

Of course, that’s kind of the point. Law enforcement’s job would be a lot easier if we just did away with the Fourth Amendment and gave the police unfettered spying powers. But that would open the door to abuses of power, so the founders wisely limited government searches to cases where the government could demonstrate it had probable cause to believe that a crime had been committed.

Separately, the fact that so many of the devices were able to be turned back on via a warrant suggests that this intermediary review step isn’t really a problem for the FBI in most cases. But it’s one that likely stops significant abuse of the system.

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Comments on “FBI Turns Back On 2,750 Of The 3,000 GPS Devices It Turned Off For Lack Of A Warrant”

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silverscarcat says:

Meanwhile, in the Hall of Doom (FBI)

“Alright, here’s the plan. First, we gather the evidence illegally.”
“Then we go to the Judge saying that we have, without a reasonable doubt, plenty of evidence to get a warrant.”
“THEN we get the warrant and use our illegally obtained evidence as legally obtained evidence and crush the poor bastards!”

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Re: Re: Taps playing quietly in background.

I guess anytime would be lousy. Its just now I have to take this knowledge home and look at my innocent 3.5 year old daughters eyes knowing that she has no idea whats in store for her future. Hell we dont even know, but from what has been done in the past, looking to the future, it seems bleak, and I believe her generation will see bloodshed over issues that have been fought for before. History is doomed to repeat itself. Only this time, the forces they will face will be much more brutal than anything we have seen in the past. I hope I am wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

Should be part of the law if it's not already...

Information gained illegally without a warrant should not be able to be used to get a warrant to in turn make the information legal or AT LEAST if you present evidence gained illegally you can have your warrant to look for more evidence but what you presented is now automatically inadmissible in court.

Prisoner 201 says:

Re: Re:

I’d like to see the number of man-hours logged on evaluating the merits of these warrants.

It probably looks something like this:
Monday morning: Rubber stamped until arm tired. Denied remaining 250.

Or if you want to cut them some slack; the 250 were easy “deny” cases (like, the “reason to spy” box was empty) and they assumed everything else was “OK”.

I would not even be surprised anymore if it went more like this:
“We can’t approve all of them, it will look fishy, we need to deny some. Yes Adam? Sure, 250 sounds about right, we’ll roll with that. Then we can say over 90% was approved, that has a nice ring to it.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The thing is, if in 91% of the cases they got the warrant, aren’t they generally right? Is there perhaps a few people making too big of a fuss out of something like this? Should there not instead perhaps be simple rules for law enforcement to follow to allow this sort of technology to be used without a warrant, such as:

1) the device may be attached only in respect to a current, ongoing investigation, and the use of the data obtained limited only to that investigation.

2) device may only be attached to a car when it is in a public space or on commercial property (such as shopping center parking, example).

3) no data about the location of the car or it’s movements while on private property can be considered

4) a notice of use to be filed with the courts within 7 days, at which time the device may be ordered removed and the data collected destroyed, and any investigation as a result of the data not be allowed for use in prosecution.

So basically, making it so that the police cannot apply the unit without an ongoing investigation, be required to inform the court, and give the court the ability to nul it out if need be.

My thoughts are this: Police are chasing a getaway car from a robbery. A gps device magnet mounted might be able to get attached to the get away car to allow them to track it without a high speed chase. However, if GPS (or other technilogy) tracking requires a warrant, the police would be forced to not consider such an option. There should be a way to do things that allows the courts to get involved, without slowly or impeding law enforcement actions, especially when those actions are done with good volition and intention.

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