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.