GPS tracking goes mainstream

There is increasing evidence that US police forces are now using GPS tracking devices regularly and with impunity. Following court rulings at different levels which have left the legal situation unclear with only the Supreme Court left (this coming week), police forces across the country have been slapping GPS trackers on thousands of private vehicles, without warrants, and until recently, without the knowledge of those being tracked.

However, Wired‘s Threat Level blog has been reporting on the growing numbers of cases of Americans who have discovered GPS trackers on their cars, and in one particularly bizarre case, a device that was replaced by undercover officers while the Wired reporters were in the vicinity, having just removed and photographed the original device!

There are many pictures and manufacturers’ detail on Threat Level. Here are a couple…

GPS tracker in place:

GPS tracker disassembled showing souped-up longlife battery, including manufacturer’s details:

One of the more perplexing things about the use of these devices is what recourse the US citizen has when they discover them. If they are placed ‘legally’, do you have the right to remove or indeed to disassemble them? What would be done if they are removed? The experience of Wired would suggest that the device would be replaced, but how many times could this go on? At what point would the state take some kind of legal action to attempt to prevent the removal of a device? In the case of location tracking devices that are known about but unable to be legally removed, surely you have a situation that becomes equivalent not to simple (if it is even simple) unwarranted surveillance, but to electronic tagging.

Locational Privacy

PDF file

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a very good little report on locational privacy, “the ability of an individual to move in public space with the expectation that under normal circumstances their location will not be systematically and secretly recorded for later use.”

As usual for EFF, it is written in clear, understandable language and is free-to-access and download.

* I’m going to be away up to the mountains for a couple of days, so there won’t be any more posts here until Sunday at the earliest… next week is a slow one here in Japan as it is O-bon, the Buddhist festival of the dead, and many people go back to their family home and offices are generally closed for some or all of the week. I won’t be doing much in the way of interviewing, but I still have quite a few interviews and visits from the last two weeks to write up.