Feeds

US Supremes liken GPS tracking to 1984's Big Brother

24/7 surveillance, no warrant needed (maybe)

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

If the Obama administration wins a crucial case testing when police may use GPS devices to track American's whereabouts, investigators would be free to attach them to all nine members of the nation's highest court without a warrant.

That blunt assessment came not from one of the many critics blasting the controversial practice, but rather from Michael Dreeben, the deputy US solicitor general who argued the case on Tuesday before the Supreme Court. According to legal scholar and blogger Orin Kerr, who attended the hearing, the justices had mixed reactions to that specter, with some comparing the continuous monitoring to a chapter out of George Orwell's 1984 and others struggling to find a way to deem it reasonable.

The hearing comes in the case of a man indicted for cocaine trafficking in the Washington, DC area. FBI agents secretly planted the device on his Jeep Cherokee while it was parked on private property without ever securing a warrant based on probable cause. The device, which allowed agents to track the suspect's whereabouts 24 hours a day for a full month, was accurate to within 100 feet and yielded more than 3,100 pages worth of data, according to court filings.

Attorneys for the defendant challenged the surveillance as a violation of constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures. Last year, a three-judge appeals panel unanimously agreed and threw out the conviction.

Federal prosecutors challenged that ruling and earlier this year the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

According to Kerr, even justices who appeared troubled by the surveillance labored to find a clear rationale for prohibiting it.

“Merely watching a suspect in a city street was obviously not a search or seizure,” he wrote. “Does that change if you switch to video cameras? Lots of cameras? Beepers? GPS devices? Where do you draw the line?”

A PDF transcript of the hearing is here.

The hearing came the same day that Wired.com reported that a California man has come forward after finding two GPS devices secretly attached to his SUV. While a reporter and photographer met with the man in public places, police cars monitored the meetings from afar but never identified themselves.

A decision in the case of United States v. Jones is likely by the end of June, when the justices usually recess for the summer. In the meantime, readers looking for a way to thwart overzealous investigators might consider self-help remedies. This £25 Anti-Tracker GPS Signal Jammer, for instance, is advertised as coming with a range of 10 meters. ®

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Jihadi terrorists DIDN'T encrypt their comms 'cos of Snowden leaks
Intel bods' analysis concludes 'no significant change' after whistle was blown
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Critical Adobe Reader and Acrobat patches FINALLY make it out
Eight vulns healed, including XSS and DoS paths
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.