EFF Sues CBP, ICE Over Refusal To Hand Over Its GPS Tracking Device Policies

from the Garmins-in-boxes-marked-'CLASSIFIED' dept

Roughly a year ago, the government attempted to argue the border search exception applied to GPS tracking devices it surreptitiously attached to a truck crossing the border from Canada and tracked for the next 48 hours, following it from its arrival point in Michigan to its destination in California.

The court disagreed with the government's interpretation of the border search exception. While it may have covered the original warrantless placement of the tracking device, it did not cover the next two days of tracking while the truck traveled far inland.

The government lost its evidence and, eventually, its case. Stuck with evidence solely derived from an unconstitutional search, the government dismissed the charges and the two arrested Canadians were free to return to their home country.

During this case, the government claimed these apparently illegal searches were within policy. Specifically, affidavits filed by the DOJ stated ICE and CBP both had policies that permitted the warrantless, suspicionless installation of tracking devices on vehicles at border crossings.

If these policies exist, no one has seen them. The EFF would like to. It filed FOIA requests with both ICE and CBP, asking the agencies to produce the policies referred to in court. To date, it has received nothing from either agency.

According to the EFF's FOIA lawsuit [PDF], both agencies have violated the law with their continued refusal to produce the requested documents. ICE received the EFF's request last November. Four months later, it said it had found three responsive pages, but that all three pages would be withheld, citing Exemption 7(E). This exemption protects "law enforcement sensitive information" that might give bad guys the jump on the feds if they knew the feds might try to sneak tracking devices onto their vehicles at border crossings.

It would seem the case above -- the one cited in the EFF's lawsuit -- kind of exposed ICE's GPS device subterfuge. The only thing surprising about the use of GPS devices was the government's assertion that the border search exception applies everywhere in the United States, not just at or near its borders.

The EFF's appeal of ICE's decision also pointed out that the Supreme Court's 2012 decision on tracking devices made it pretty clear this super-secret law enforcement technique was actually well-known and understood pretty thoroughly by cops and criminals alike. Upon receipt of this appeal, ICE apparently decided it would no longer discuss its ridiculous exemption deployment.

The CBP, on the other hand, has refused to do anything at all. It too received the EFF's FOIA request last November, but apparently can't even be bothered to look for documents, much less pretend discussion of GPS tracking devices would undermine its covert operations.

The lawsuit seeks the full disclosure of the documents as well as any legal fees incurred by the government's refusal to comply with FOIA law. Should this finally dislodge the documents, we'll all know just a little more about the apparently minimal standards border agencies apply to their use of tracking devices.

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Filed Under: cbp, foia, gps, ice, policies, public records, tracking, transparency
Companies: eff

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 12:58am

    Not sure why...

    I'm not sure why these agencies are so opposed to releasing that policy. After all, it's just three words:

    "If possible, track."

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