Today, the Supreme Court listened to arguments from both sides regarding the use of GPS technology as tracking devices on cars without a warrant. During this same time, Wired reported that a San Jose, Calif., man had come forward to them stating he had found not one but two GPS devices stuck under his SUV.
Here’s Wired’s account of the 25-year-old going only by Greg:
[...] he found the first one about three weeks ago on his Volvo SUV while visiting his mother in Modesto, about 80 miles northeast of San Jose. After contacting Wired and allowing a photographer to snap pictures of the device, it was swapped out and replaced with a second tracking device. A witness also reported seeing a strange man looking beneath the vehicle of the young man’s girlfriend while her car was parked at work, suggesting that a tracking device may have been retrieved from her car.
Then things got really weird when police showed up during a Wired interview with the man.
Greg says he discovered the first tracker on his vehicle after noticing what looked like a cell phone antenna inside a hole on his back bumper where a cable is stored for towing a trailer. The device, the size of a mobile phone, was not attached to a battery pack, suggesting the battery was embedded in its casing.
Wired reports that Greg assumes the reason he has had GPS trackers placed under his car is because of criminal drug case involving his cousin, a Mexican citizen who has since fled back to his country. Greg decided to contact Wired after reading about Yasir Afifi, an Arab-American who also found a GPS device under his bumper without his prior knowledge.
Wired goes on to state that the day after its photographer, Jon Snyder, went to take photographs of Greg’s car in early November, reportedly a Crown Victoria with tinted windows was seen at Greg’s girlfriend’s workplace near her car and Greg also said that his tracker had been replaced with another one.
According to Wired, Casey McEnry, the DEA spokeswoman in San Francisco, said they can’t comment on the “means or methods” that it uses.
So what about the cops showing up? Wired explains:
When this reporter drove down to meet Greg and photograph the second tracker with photographer Snyder, three police cars appeared at the location that had been pre-arranged with Greg, at various points driving directly behind me without making any verbal contact before leaving.
After moving the photo shoot to a Rotten Robbie gas station a mile away from the first location, another police car showed up. In this case, the officer entered the station smiling at me and turned his car around to face the direction of Greg’s car, a couple hundred yards away. He remained there while the device was photographed. A passenger in the police car, dressed in civilian clothes, stepped out of the vehicle to fill a gas container, then the two left shortly before the photo shoot was completed.
With this story released today, the Supreme Court met to hear a case on the constitutionality of using GPS devices without a warrant. We reported on the case last week, previewing the arguments with which the justices would be posed. The Associated Press reports that the justices appeared “unsettled” on the case of how or whether to regulate GPS tracking today.
The court heard arguments in the Obama administration’s appeal of a court ruling that threw out a drug conspiracy conviction against Antoine Jones. FBI agents and local police did not have a valid search warrant when they installed a GPS device on Jones’ car and collected travel information.
The justices were especially taken aback when the lawyer representing the government said police officers could install GPS devices on the justices’ cars and track their movements without a warrant.
Justice Samuel Alito captured the essence of the court’s concern when he said, “With computers around, it’s now so simple to amass an enormous amount of information. How do we deal with this? Just say nothing has changed?”
Justice Department lawyer Michael Dreeben said it would be better for lawmakers rather than judges to set limits. Dreeben said the concerns expressed Tuesday were similar to those in the earlier high court case. Thirty years ago, Dreeben said, “Beeper technology seemed extraordinarily advanced.”
He also sought to portray GPS use as one among many police tracking methods that do not call for a warrant. Police can go through people’s trash, obtain information about who they call, even follow them round-the-clock without a warrant, he said.
GPS devices are especially useful in early stages of an investigation, when they can eliminate the use of time-consuming stakeouts as officers seek to gather evidence, he said.
For all the unease the court voiced in its questions to Dreeben, the justices seemed equally torn in questions to Stephen Leckar, Jones’ lawyer, about how to impose limits on the police.
The justices are considering two related issues, whether a warrant is needed before installing the device or using the GPS technology to track a vehicle. They could determine that the installation requires a warrant, leaving the knottier issues relating to tracking to another day.
A decision should come by spring.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.