Police-state watch: Good/bad/good news and a lesson

The good news: On Jan. 23, the Supreme Court decided (US v Jones) that the police can’t attach a GPS tracking device to your car without a warrant.

The bad news: According to Julia Angwin in The Wall Street Journal, the FBI had already deployed around 3,000 such devices prior to the Supreme Court decision.

The good news: The FBI is in the process of decommissioning those 3,000 GPS devices, which are now illegal. Further, the FBI is pondering the limitations that might arise from the concurring opinions in the case, suggesting that citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their general comings and goings, even when conducted in public. According to FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissmann, “From a law enforcement perspective, even though it’s not technically holding, we have to anticipate how it’s going to go down the road.”

The lesson: For some amount of time, the FBI was secretly conducting warrantless 7×24 tracking of 3,000 automobiles, a covert program ratcheting us one step closer to a total-surveillance police state. It took only one of those 3,000 targeted individuals to question the legality of the procedure and bring it to an end, but it did require that one person to speak up. There is great power in a single voice and great risk in communal silence.


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