Are US border cops secretly secreting GPS trackers on vehicles without a warrant? EFF lawyers want to know

Uncle Sam sued by rights warriors probing claims of silent snooping on suspicious rides

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has sued [PDF] the US Department of Homeland Security to find out more about a program where, it is claimed, officers secretly stick GPS trackers on vehicles they are suspicious of as they come through the border.

The EFF has made repeated freedom of information act (FoIA) requests about the program’s policies but has been stonewalled, with Homeland Security's responses claiming any information would contain “sensitive information” that could lead to “circumvention of the law.”

The foundation's main concern is that Homeland Security is carrying out its secret tracking without a warrant, or even anything beyond a single officer’s suspicion. And it points to a recent US Supreme Court decision where it ruled that warrantless GPS tracking was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.

Details of the program came to light last year when customs officers revealed in court filings that they had used GPS trackers without a warrant at the border. Since then the EFF has tried to find out what the policies and procedures are for deciding when a vehicle can be tagged. The relevant authorities have not been keen to go into any detail.

There’s another legal precedent too: a California court ruled that government officials’ use of GPS devices to track two suspected drug dealers without getting a warrant violated the Supreme Court decision, made in 2012, and was government misconduct.

Constitutional bending

The two men had a tracking device stuck on their truck on the US side of the Canadian border in Michigan and were then tailed to California where they were arrested. An ICE official had signed a declaration saying the approach was consistent with the Supreme Court decision; the California courts felt otherwise.


California mulls law to protect your e-privates from warrant-free cops


The EFF is making no bones about its frustration with border agents: “Once again, ICE and CBP prove themselves to be rogue agencies by conducting searches that violate the Fourth Amendment and ignore Supreme Court precedent,” said staff attorney Saira Hussain. “Let’s be clear: the Constitution still applies at the border.”

The EFF’s FoIA request and now the lawsuit is designed to figure out if the border cops are still running similar programs even though they have clearly been ruled unconstitutional.

And in a related case, the EFF is still pushing to find out more about similar warrantless searches of people’s electronic devices at the border. That is going wending its way through the lawsuits but the EFF claims the case is so cut-and-dried that there’s no need for a trial and the court should simply rules that it is unconstitutional to conduct warrantless search on electronic devices, given other recent Supreme Court decisions.

The border issue has come under the spotlight again this week after a Harvard freshman had his visa revoked and was deported after a customs officer found posts written by other people in his social media feed that they felt were anti-US. The student in question had been asked to provide access to their phone and laptop and had done so. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • North Korea pulled in $400m in cryptocurrency heists last year – report

    Plus: FIFA 22 players lose their identity and Texas gets phony QR codes

    In brief Thieves operating for the North Korean government made off with almost $400m in digicash last year in a concerted attack to steal and launder as much currency as they could.

    A report from blockchain biz Chainalysis found that attackers were going after investment houses and currency exchanges in a bid to purloin funds and send them back to the Glorious Leader's coffers. They then use mixing software to make masses of micropayments to new wallets, before consolidating them all again into a new account and moving the funds.

    Bitcoin used to be a top target but Ether is now the most stolen currency, say the researchers, accounting for 58 per cent of the funds filched. Bitcoin accounted for just 20 per cent, a fall of more than 50 per cent since 2019 - although part of the reason might be that they are now so valuable people are taking more care with them.

    Continue reading
  • Tesla Full Self-Driving videos prompt California's DMV to rethink policy on accidents

    Plus: AI systems can identify different chess players by their moves and more

    In brief California’s Department of Motor Vehicles said it’s “revisiting” its opinion of whether Tesla’s so-called Full Self-Driving feature needs more oversight after a series of videos demonstrate how the technology can be dangerous.

    “Recent software updates, videos showing dangerous use of that technology, open investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the opinions of other experts in this space,” have made the DMV think twice about Tesla, according to a letter sent to California’s Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), chair of the Senate’s transportation committee, and first reported by the LA Times.

    Tesla isn’t required to report the number of crashes to California’s DMV unlike other self-driving car companies like Waymo or Cruise because it operates at lower levels of autonomy and requires human supervision. But that may change after videos like drivers having to take over to avoid accidentally swerving into pedestrians crossing the road or failing to detect a truck in the middle of the road continue circulating.

    Continue reading
  • Alien life on Super-Earth can survive longer than us due to long-lasting protection from cosmic rays

    Laser experiments show their magnetic fields shielding their surfaces from radiation last longer

    Life on Super-Earths may have more time to develop and evolve, thanks to their long-lasting magnetic fields protecting them against harmful cosmic rays, according to new research published in Science.

    Space is a hazardous environment. Streams of charged particles traveling at very close to the speed of light, ejected from stars and distant galaxies, bombard planets. The intense radiation can strip atmospheres and cause oceans on planetary surfaces to dry up over time, leaving them arid and incapable of supporting habitable life. Cosmic rays, however, are deflected away from Earth, however, since it’s shielded by its magnetic field.

    Now, a team of researchers led by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) believe that Super-Earths - planets that are more massive than Earth but less than Neptune - may have magnetic fields too. Their defensive bubbles, in fact, are estimated to stay intact for longer than the one around Earth, meaning life on their surfaces will have more time to develop and survive.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022