Why Bother Attaching Tracking Devices to Cars When People Voluntarily Carry Them Wherever They Go?

In a CNN essay, the ACLU's Catherine Crump notes that if police can use GPS devices to track vehicles without obtaining a warrant—a question that is currently before the Supreme Court in the case U.S. v. Jones—they may not need judicial authorization to make similar use of people's mobile phones:

Everyone with a cell phone is already carrying a device that the government can use to track his or her location....

It doesn't matter whether your phone is a smartphone or whether you use it to make calls; as long as your phone is turned on, it registers its location with cell phone networks several times a minute, and all U.S. cell phone companies hold on to that data, some of them for years.

This kind of tracking is extremely invasive, because if the government knows where you are, it knows who you are. As the Jones appellate court explained in its ruling that the government violated the Fourth Amendment, "A person who knows all of another's travels can deduce whether he is a weekly churchgoer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups—and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts."

Cell phone tracking can reveal our private associations and relationships with one another. The government could make note of whenever people being tracked crossed path or spent time together, showing who our friends, associates and lovers are.

The Justice Department sometimes gets warrants to track location, and some local police departments make it a policy, which shows that it's not an unworkable requirement. But state and federal judges across the country have made conflicting rulings on what standards are required for the government to obtain tracking information from cell phone companies.

In rebuttal, communitarian sociologist Amitai Etzioni argues that police should not need warrants for GPS tracking because too many crimes go unsolved.

I discussed Jones last week. Cato Institute privacy specialist Julian Sanchez, a Reason contributing editor, argues that mass tracking via cell phone is probably the sort of warrantless surveillance that the Obama administration is conducting under its "secret interpretation" of the PATRIOT Act.

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  • Colonel_Angus||

    "In rebuttal, communitarian sociologist Amitai argues that police should not need warrants for GPS tracking because too many crimes go unsolved."

    Why is this even worth mentioning? Fuck that person.

  • ||

    It is more rubbish than rebuttal.

  • Maxxx||


    It is misdirection.

    The reality is that technology is making the current concepts of anonymity and privacy obsolete.

    We are truly entering a global village. And as anyone that has ever lived in a village can tell you, everyone there knows where everyone else is and what they are doing.

    Pass whatever laws we want, they won't matter for shit because the tracking information exists and we all know how well restricting information works.

    Now I know how some socon dickhead felt the first time his kid saw a girl in a string bikini online fifteen years ago. Pissed at a loss of control and a fear (realized) that it would quickly get infinitely worse.

  • Gojira||

    Thankfully the majority of the comments on his "rebuttal" are against it. That's something, I suppose.


  • Suki||

    It is a rare dropping of the mask that the hard left does before they have all the power they crave.

  • o3||

    so the telecom corps who participate are the "hard left"? (ur words)

  • ||

    He may as well just come out and say that we need our privacy violated because the police are shitty at their jobs.

  • ||

    Remember, Prof. Farnsworth, that the left is the champion of civil liberties. It's what differentiates them from the right. I mean, that's what they tell us constantly, right?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Civl liberties of the collective. Society has rights.

  • Chupacabra||

    I think they mean "civil SERVANT liberties."

  • ||

    In the mind of someone like this, the police shouldn't need warrants for very much at all.

  • LauraB||

    "communitarian sociologist Amitai argues that police should not need warrants for GPS tracking because too many crimes go unsolved."
    What does the crime rate have to do with my civil rights? How low does the crime rate have to go before we're treated as US citizens and not presumed to be criminals? Maybe they could publish a daily report, like a pollen count report. Crime is moderate, so your 1st, 2nd, and 4th amendment rights are suspended for today. It looks like a bad 5th amendment day tomorrow so bundle up.

  • Gojira||

    On really bad days, they suspend the 3rd amendment.

  • ||


  • ||

    In my view, by definition, if one opposes the constitutional absolutism set forth in the bill of rights and criticizes support for the same as "unnuanced", one exposes himself as an intellectual inferior just regurgitating socialist sophistry.

  • jasno||

    Threadjack - Lancaster, CA is running its own spyplane? http://www.wired.com/threatlev.....spy-plane/

  • Gray Ghost||

    $90k a month!? Plus $1.3M initial costs? How much of their public safety budget is going to this? (Even though I'm sure there's a federal grant underwriting most of it.) To fly around and snoop in people's yards. The sad thing is that a majority of Lancaster's citizens are probably O.K. with it.

  • Juice||

    Dude. Just implant the chips already.

  • Ayn R. Key||

    Find GPS Unit.

    Mail it to China.

    Watch the fireworks when the police realize their unit is missing.

    Deny all knowledge.

  • Juice||

    You know customs would go apeshit on you when they xray the box and it looks all bombey.

  • Ayn R. Key||

    Nah, just be clever about what you put on the customs declaration form. Write down "CB Radio" or something like that, and then they'll expect to see something that looks like a radio on the X-Ray.

  • WWNGD||

    Mail it to some random person across the country.

  • Ayn R. Key||

    Not good enough, too easy to recover. China, on the other hand, would love to receive our police GPS units and would have every ability to not return it.

  • Ayn R. Key||

    On the other hand, attaching it to a cross-country freight train has possibilities...

  • Juice||

    A few years ago at a conference the DNI said "I wish I could track everyone everywhere at all times. That's the goal."

    This is what they want.

  • ||

    Oh, most definitely. There is no question they want anything they can get. But if you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear, right?

  • ||

    Threadjack: Just read many of the comments from Nick G's Penn State piece on Monday. It appears many are just taking the grand jury report as gospel. It also appears that many are of the view that JoePa is evil because he failed to jump on board the anti-child molestation hysteria totalitarian bandwagon.

    The coverage of the whole affair illustrates just how hollow and vapid and lazy and unethical journalism has become. Except for some notable exceptions like Franco Harris, Peter King and Mitch Albom, almost all in the media speak as if it is a FACT that(1) JoePa knew everything that transpired on the campus of Penn State; (2) JoePa orchestrated a cover-up and that the entirety of the Nittany Lions Notables participated in a grand conspiracy to cover-up the alleged affair; (3) JoePa has known about Jerry's kids for years as he had to have known cuz he's JoePA and he's Penn State and he ran the joint and he was god of happy valley and he had to know cuz Jerry worked for him for 30 years.

  • ||

    Well, if JoePa and Sandbanana didn't want all the unwanted attention then they shouldn't of diddled all them little kids!

  • ||

    I don't know what's true or not, but I also don't give a shit about some sports coach getting canned. If the university wants to can him, that's their decision.

    I don't worship sports figures, because it's stupid. The media is going to make a circus of this, but we already knew that. Hopefully some modicum of justice will be achieved by the end of it all.

  • ||

    I'm with you. Before the story broke, I'd heard the name Joe Paterno; and if you'd put a gun to my head, I could've probably told you he was involved in sports, but that's about it. If he really did know about little kids getting fucked in the ass and did nothing about it, then he deserves to be canned.

    ("Canned" lol)

  • ||

    My prediction on this--and this is entirely speculative--is that Sandusky was molestering him some kids. They'll threaten anyone who covered this up and get a few lower in the food chain to roll on the others, and then maybe even start charging people like Joe or other higher ups with conspiracy.

    And if it is all true, then: charge away. They deserve to go to jail.

    Of course, there is always the chance for a Duke-style grandstanding prosecutor, as always, so we'll have to see.

  • Leroy||

    I'm a regular lurker here, and occasionally will join the conversations (sometimes as a devil's advocate), but I'm not sure if I understand your position on this correctly Epi...

    You are saying that the government should be allowed to force a positive action out of an individual? Should the government be allowed to tell someone they MUST act?

    "And if it is all true, then: charge away. They deserve to go to jail."

    This is what has me confused. While I agree that if they knew and did nothing they are morally abhorent, should the government have the power to force, under threat of violence, the positive action of an individual?

    Thanks in advance for clearing this up for me.

  • ||

    Leroy, simply put, as an anarchist I unfortunately live in a system that I oppose, but I must live in it or basically go live on a desert island.

    Within our current system, the government does very much have the power to force a positive action.

    In my world, absolutely no to having a government, let alone it forcing action. That is not the world Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno live in, and in the world they and I live in, they can and probably will be charged with various crimes.

    So I was not speaking about what should or should not be from a political philosophy perspective; I was talking about what should happen within our current system if they in fact did the things they are accused of.

    Does that clarify things?

  • Beloved Rev. Blue Moon||

    Before the story broke, I'd heard the name Joe Paterno; and if you'd put a gun to my head, I could've probably told you he was involved in sports

    Wow, I bet you don't own a television either. SO COOL.

  • ||

    Journalism today is nothing more than being the state's stenograhper.

    A real journalist would direct his readers'/ viewers' attention to the follwoing facts:

    (1) Grand juries are controlled by the state and journalists are not permitted to attend.

    (2) Witnesses ordered to testify are not permitted to have their lawyers present nor can they or their lawyers cross examine other witnesses or otherwise present their own information unmolested by the state's hired guns.

    (3) Grand jury reports are allegations, not the revealed truth.

    (4) Grand juries have a history of getting wrong and allowing themselves to be the tools of the state.

    (5) It was the police and the the district attorney who failed to prosecute Jerry in 1998, NOT JOE PATERNO; therefore any blame for the failure to "put a stop" to matters lies with the state, not Joe Paterno.

    (6) Asseverations such as Joe Paterno "ran Penn State" and "JoePa knew everything that transpired on campus" and "Paterno knew that Sandusky was molesting those boys" and "Paterno looked the other way" and "Paterno ordered a cover-up" and "Paterno controlled Penn State" and "he cared more about his legacy than the kids being molested" are baseless speculations unsupported by any facts.

    For starters.

  • ||

    Let me be as clear as possible: I don't give the slightest crap about Joe Paterno being fired.

  • ||


    Let me get this straight, you're saying that it's okay to rape kids as long as you're a good football coach?

    You're entitled to your opinion, but I disagree.

  • ||

    How do you ask such a question? Forgive me if you are just snarking out.

  • ||

    No, I'm just messin' around cause I'm sick of hearing about it. I live in western PA and if I hear or read 'JoePa' again I'm going on a twelve state vicodin eating spree.

  • ||


  • ||

    You hear that scratching sound?

    That's me squirrelin' around your medicine cabinet...RIGHT NOW!

  • AlmightyJB||

    Well you're not that far from Columbus. Start your spree here and I'll help help you demolish some of that vicodin:)

  • ||

    Epi, I don't worship them either. If Paterno was the chair of the Women's Studies Dept and he (well, she) was alleged to have looked the other way and covered up a pattern of molestation perpetrated by one of the militant lezzie professors in the department upon summer school sylphids of a certain age, I would feel the same way.

    My wife keeps reminding me that I am defending a state employee.

  • ||

    Sports talk radio and Mike Lupica are not journalists. You know that, right? Just because you have access to a media outlet forum doesn't make you a journalist.

    Not that I know anything about this case. I couldn't give a fuck if the whole university was a bunch of shee... (don't go there - MW).

  • ||

    If one is a statist, one can not also be a journalist.

  • Beloved Rev. Blue Moon||

    My wife keeps reminding me that I am defending a state employee.

    Come on.

    You're not married.

  • ||

    As I have set forth several times, my wife is also a state employee.

  • wareagle||

    Paterno was given an eyewitness account of Sandusky sodomizing a kid. His report to the AD was about "fondling". The AD has already been charged criminally in the matter for perjury. Odds are good that JoePa is next.

    It's not what Paterno did so much as what he did NOT do. And aggravating the circumstances is Joe's delusional belief in himself as deity.

  • ||

    Nah, Paterno looks unlikely to be charged with perjury at this point. Seems like the grand jury believes that he (and McQueary) did the minimum legally necessary. Just they didn't apparently do their moral duty, but the two can (and should in many cases) be distinct.

  • ||

    It was the police and the the district attorney who failed to prosecute Jerry in 1998, NOT JOE PATERNO; therefore any blame for the failure to "put a stop" to matters lies with the state, not Joe Paterno.

    I don't see how the "not Joe Paterno" part follows. Paterno isn't the one most at fault, and he did satisfy minimally his legal obligation, but I think that there's enough independent evidence-- including what Paterno himself testified to, but also enough corroborating adult witnesses-- to say that Paterno should, morally, have done more.

    I don't think that there's evidence that Paterno "ordered a coverup." I just think that he, like McQueary, took the easy way out rather than being the one to turn in his friend and snitch to the police, and then didn't follow up when it became clear that nothing was happening.

    He didn't have to "know everything" or "order a coverup." But I think that there's more than enough evidence that Paterno was a coward. He's not the only person who was, and not the only one person who would be in such a situation.

  • ||

    Howcan one be a coward for refusing to snitch and run to the cops? The people who snitch and run and cry to the police are the cowards.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    There is no limit to the data that bureaucrats and justice officials desire. The prevailing theory is that with enough data they can solve all of society's ills. It's massive hubris on their part.

  • ||


    That's what we have shit like THAT for!

  • Warty||

    This came to mind.

    Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything – and the federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.
  • ||

    and the federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.


    He's at least 150 years too late

  • They are guilty...||

    because they passed the joint back and forth between them, thus creating an imputed transaction that intentionally avoided interstate commerce, ergo COMMERCE.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I love that Amitai Etzioni exists, because he claims to be the intellectual head of the communitarian movement, but every time he puts fingers to keyboard he reveals that he is a naked authoritarian.

  • ||

    Communitarian, authoritarian, is there supposed to be a difference?

  • ||

    Yeah, communitarian is just authoritarian with slightly nicer overtones.

  • Give him a break...||

    He also says in the rebuttal "If it turns out that they are employed too often or to track...political activists, the police should be REPRIMANDED..." yes, reprimanded, I presume by other communitarians who might apply a mild wrist slap.

    so nothing to worry.

  • SIV||


    All communitarians are authoritarian by definition.

  • yonemoto||

    what about a voluntary communitarian that prefaces all of his orders with, "if you're okay with it"

  • ||

    Well, let's give the voluntary communitarian a chance:

    "No, I'm not okay with it".

  • Voluntary Mandatorianism...||

  • PantsFan||

    Is that along the lines of volunteerism should be a required credit in high school ?

  • ||

    All communitarians are authoritarian by definition.

    I thought they were colorless and odorless putty, capable of being shaped into any position possible, as long as the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I actually wrote my Master's thebus on libertarian/communitarian compatiblism. Step one was disavowing everything ever written by any self-identified communitarian ever.

  • ||

    You were drunk for 6 months after that, just to try to wash the entomological nightmare from your mind, weren't you?

  • Warty||

    entomological nightmare


  • mad libertarian guy||

    Nice catch.

  • ||

    Shit. Stupid spellcheck and me hurrying.

  • SIV||

    Editor's note: Amitai Etzioni is a sociologist and professor of international relations at George Washington University and the author of several books, including "The Limits of Privacy." He was a senior adviser to the Carter administration and has taught at Columbia and Harvard universities and the University of California, Berkeley.

    "History's Greatest Monster"

  • wingnutx||

    Gary Johnson will be on Red Eye tonight.

    I hope he wears something sexy.

  • yonemoto||

    "an unfaithful husband"

    What a chauvinist. Wives can be unfaithful too.

  • WWNGD||

    but... but... but... the government said mandating GPS units for cell phones was for our SAFETY!

  • ||

    If you were to remove the GPS, people would complain. They like the map feature.

    I can't think of any reason why the phone companies, couldn't sell the data to a geospatial intelligence firm that could then sell it to LEOs. Or sell to LEOs directly. No one is forcing you to buy the phone. As long as the data use is mentioned in the TOS or user agreement. You are voluntarily give up the right not to be tracked in non-public places.

    I suppose you could put it in a Faraday case, but the phone COs could make that a violation of your agreement. Or, laws could be passed that says you can not interfere with the GPS signal. For your safety of course.

    I've been barking up the privacy tree for years. I've learned no one really cares. People will take the bad with the good and stick to the nothing to hide BS.

  • Brett L||

    Pretty sure they have integrated antennae for all the chips in your phone. Faraday cage that will block the GPS will block the RF for your telephony, too. Not to mention that the very nature of cell phones makes GPS unnecessary. Anytime your phone can talk to 3 towers, your location is known within feet. If it can talk to 4, it can probably be determined to inches.

  • ||

    That's true. But if you don't want to be tracked, you have to take measures. Either not have the phone at all or accept disruptions to your service.

    The odds are people will accept the idea of being tracked 24/7.

  • ||

    Anytime your phone can talk to 3 towers, your location is known within feet. If it can talk to 4, it can probably be determined to inches.

    And more importantly, it's somewhat of a misdirection to imply that the police have to get the data from the cell phone companies. They can perfectly well geolocate a handset without the phone company being involved at all.

  • Get Our New Fashion Acc.||

    From chic fashion designers in the Police State Bloc, Lead-lined Cell Phone Pouches. Carry your phones in lead lined pouch to evade Secret Police detection. Available in many fashionable colors and patterns......

  • veemee sashimi||

    Will Sanchez be voting for Obama again this time around?

  • ||


  • ||


  • PermaLurker||

    This is one reason why I do not own and will never own a cell phone. Another reason is the rampant idiocy that seems to develop in some people when they own cell phones. I can remember lists, plan ahead of time, and make decisions all on my very ownsome without consulting innumerable others. I also know how to change my tires, remember to put gas in my car and carry emergency supplies for bad weather.
    Also, I have a major problem with people who interrupt a face-to-face conversation they are having with me to hold another conversation via phone. It is especially irksome when it's the fourth or fifth occurrence.

  • ||

    You forgot to tell us how music is too loud and kids should get off your lawn.

  • cynical||

    Turn it off and take the battery out and you'll be fine.

  • ||

    ""This is one reason why I do not own and will never own a cell phone.""

    What, are you over 50? ;-)

    Seriously though, not long from now, the only way to avoid it is to not participate in society.

    Biometeric IDs are coming very soon. Your bank won't use a card or your DL when you withdraw money, it will require some sort of scan. I've already seen time clocks with hand scanners. The NYPD is testing iris scanners for suspects now. In the future you won't be asked for a drivers license, you will be scanned and your "record" will tell them if you are authorized to drive and if you have any warrants, previously arrested, and allow them to view any intelligence data stored on you.

  • Gray Ghost||

    Biometric scanners, and accompanying portable databases, are all of the rage in the Afghanistan/Pakistan war. See this article from strategypage. Like Tricky, I think it's coming here too and only crazy tin-foil hat wearing militia types will have a problem with it. /sarc.

  • ||

    From the link.

    "It only takes about two minutes per subject to use SEEK to take the biometric data, so any suspicious characters are quickly added to the master database. Now, after several years of this, raiding parties know to grab any guy who seems to panic at the sight of the biometrics equipment coming out"

    You don't want the government to know who you are, you must be threat.

    ""and only crazy tin-foil hat wearing militia types will have a problem with it. /sarc.""

    call it sarcasim if you will, but in the not to distant future, anyone who really believes in privacy, or that government shouldn't be all knowing, will belong to a milita in the coming civil war. /tinhat

  • PermaLurker||

    Almost over 50 but not quite. And I already don't participate much in society..living out in flyover country on a farm has that effect. Being identified while making non-cash transactions is not the same as being tracked. After all, there are no iris scanners at the body dump in the swamp ;)

  • ||

    ""Being identified while making non-cash transactions is not the same as being tracked. ""

    It's a form of tracking at least in that there is a electronic record of the transaction that shows time and place. Some fugitives are caught using those transactions to find them.

  • Mr Whipple||

    they may not need judicial authorization to make similar use of people's mobile phones:

    Which is why criminals use disposables, among other reasons. Besides, if you have GPS "enabled" on your cell, there's no expectation of privacy. This is different than "planting" a GPS tracker on someone's car, IMHO. The actual act of planting the device is a violation.

  • romulus augustus||

    It won't be long until we have a "Law & Order" episode about this where an alleged perp's alibi gets taken down by a gps showing he was in a different location. Of course, the perp may want to leave his cell phone home during the crime to establish his alibi too.

  • Brendan Perez||

    It'll work one way similar to how a BAC can be used as the sole factor in charging you with a DUI, but can never forbid a charge of DUI.

    Your phone's location will only be permitted to be used to tear down your alibi, never build it.

  • cynical||

    When you use a cell phone, you're logging onto a privately owned network. The privacy of that data should be the equivalent of your privacy in a store or bar -- if the owner has cameras, he can turn them over to the police at his discretion, or be compelled to do so with a warrant or subpoena.

  • cynical||

    I guess The Transparent Society influenced my thinking about privacy a bit: the powerful will have the capacity to violate people's privacy at will, and legal protections will be fairly toothless. At best, you might be able to exclude some evidence in a trial, but they'll still have that information, and these days there's no guarantee you'll even get a trial or want one once the prosecutor offers you a plea bargain you can't refuse. Technology is giving them more and more information about us, and information is power.

    It's probably more effective to pursue the tools (legal and technological) necessary to expose the powerful to public surveillance and disseminate that information, in order to hold them accountable for their actions and particularly their abuses of the power granted to them. Privacy is a lost cause, and liberty won't find any shelter in the darkness for much longer -- better to pursue a brighter light to shine on those that would rule.

  • ||

    Those who seek liberty don't make the rules. Authority will make the best to hide its self, strengthen their right to privacy (classified), and weaken the rules that shine the light (FOIA).

  • Generaloberst Mark||

    It is gut to see that finally there ist someone who ist koming zu der senses!

    If they are involfed in kounter-revolutionary aktivity, then they vill not be so koncerned about tracking by the Ministry of Zekurity!

    Obviously, the zo-kalled "privacy advocates" are just der Fuhrers of terrorist cells vaiting to karry out their missions against the Shtate!


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