Sunday, February 26, 2012

FBI turns off 3,000 illegal tracking devices after SCOTUS ruling

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Andrew Weissmann (FBI General Counsel)
Andrew Weissmann

From the files of the simultaneously satisfying and disturbing: In the wake of last month’s Supreme Court ruling (U.S. v. Jones) that police actually did need to obey the Fourth Amendment and obtain a warrant before sticking a GPS tracking device under suspects’ cars, a new report reveals that the FBI has had to quietly deactivate thousands of such illegally-placed devices all around the country:

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling overturning the warrantless use of GPS tracking devices has caused a “sea change” inside the U.S. Justice Department, according to FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissmann.

Mr. Weissmann, speaking at a University of San Francisco conference called “Big Brother in the 21st Century” on Friday, said that the court ruling prompted the FBI to turn off about 3,000 GPS tracking devices that were in use.


Mr. Weissmann said that the FBI is now working to develop new guidelines for the use of GPS devices. He said the agency is also working on guidelines to cover the broader implications of the court decision beyond GPS devices.

It would be refreshing to hear that the feds are doing the right thing if it weren’t altogether too depressing that it took a ruling by the nation’s top court (!) to get a federal law enforcement agency to obey the Fourth Amendment (!!), which they were already supposed to be following in the first place (!!!) … and, again, that they had violated this blatantly obvious law in approximately 3,000 cases (!!11!).

Even more exasperating is when they talk about supposed difficulties in determining which acts are allowed or not:

For instance, he said, agency is now “wrestling” with the legality of whether agents can lift up the lid of a trash can without committing trespass. The majority opinion in U.S. v. Jones held that the agents had trespassed when placing the GPS device on a car without warrant.

Gee. You’d think that the idea that you need a warrant in order to spy on anyone or access their private property were difficult to comprehend or something. Then again, given the innumerable (and counting) cases of law officers blatantly and all-too-quickly engaging in all sorts of “unreasonable searches and seizures”, it would appear that there may well be something to that hypothesis.

(via @normative)