Feeds

US Supremes liken GPS tracking to 1984's Big Brother

24/7 surveillance, no warrant needed (maybe)

High performance access to file storage

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. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Parent gabfest Mumsnet hit by SSL bug: My heart bleeds, grins hacker
Natter-board tells middle-class Britain to purée its passwords
Web data BLEEDOUT: Users to feel the pain as Heartbleed bug revealed
Vendors and ISPs have work to do updating firmware - if it's possible to fix this
OpenSSL Heartbleed: Bloody nose for open-source bleeding hearts
Bloke behind the cockup says not enough people are helping crucial crypto project
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Call of Duty 'fragged using OpenSSL's Heartbleed exploit'
So it begins ... or maybe not, says one analyst
Experian subsidiary faces MEGA-PROBE for 'selling consumer data to fraudster'
US attorneys general roll up sleeves, snap on gloves
NSA denies it knew about and USED Heartbleed encryption flaw for TWO YEARS
Agency forgets it exists to protect communications, not just spy on them
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.