How Many GPS Trackers Is The FBI Actually Using?

March 27, 2012

Forbes.com on March 27, 2012 released the following:

“Kashmir Hill, Forbes Staff

After the Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Jones that the government needs to get warrants to put GPS trackers on citizens’ cars, law enforcement and government agencies across the country had to scramble to ensure that any trackers they had in the wild were ‘warranted.’ The WSJ reported earlier this year that the FBI had to turn off 3,000 trackers after the Supreme Court ruling. A more recent article from NPR, though, has a slightly different version of events. FBI officials tell NPR that they had “about” 3,000 trackers in the field, and permanently shut down fewer than 10% of them:

“Government lawyers scrambled to get search warrants for weeks before the decision, working to convince judges they had probable cause to believe crimes were taking place. But after the ruling, FBI officials tell NPR, agents still had to turn off 250 devices that they couldn’t turn back on.”

So what are the actual numbers here? According to an FBI spokesperson, the Bureau doesn’t exactly know either. A spokesman says the 3,000 number referred to the “universe of trackers” — and may reflect the total used over a given year, or the total in use at any one time, or someone’s dartboard score. “It’s an oversimplification,” said an FBI spokesperson.

To rectify the problem of a number that seems to have forced itself into the conversation like an uninvited dinner guest, the FBI has asked its 56 field offices to report back on how many GPS trackers are currently in use, how many already had warrants prior to the Supreme Court’s January ruling, how many had to be shut down, and how many were brought into compliance. “Hopefully, we’ll have that by the end of the week,” says a spokesperson. *Fingers crossed*

As to the total number of trackers used by other government agencies and state and local law enforcement (not to mention private investigators and suspicious spouses), that’s anyone’s guess — or someone’s very diligent FOIA-ing.

“The problem is there’s no national database,” says Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association. “I can say, anecdotally, that across the country, prosecutors now have to meet with law enforcement to prepare affidavits and warrants when they want to use a tracker.”

Given that delay, Burns suggest some police are being forced to return to “old school surveillance tactics,” i.e. tailing a suspect’s car French Connection-style instead of digitally.

Of course, given that we all carry around our own personal digital trackers these days in the form of cell and smartphones, privacy and civil liberties advocates are already moving on to the next big location legal question: should the government need a warrant to get access to the whereabouts of your phone (and thus you)? One judge in Maryland recently ruled “No!” Meanwhile, a case in which a judge said “Yes!” has made its way to a federal appeals court. The government argues that once a person reveals their location to their phone company, they lose 4th Amendment protections over that information (thanks to the “third party doctrine”), meaning no warrant is needed. We’ll see what the Fifth Circuit thinks of that. Should the issue make its way to the Supreme Court, we already know that Justice Sonia Sotomayor has problems with that line of reasoning.”

————————————————————–

Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


FBI Still Struggling With Supreme Court’s GPS Ruling

March 21, 2012

NPR March 21, 2012 released the following:

“by CARRIE JOHNSON

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court said police had overstepped their legal authority by planting a GPS tracker on the car of a suspected drug dealer without getting a search warrant. It seemed like another instance in a long line of cases that tests the balance between personal privacy and the needs of law enforcement.

But the decision in U.S. v. Jones set off alarm bells inside the FBI, where officials are trying to figure out whether they need to change the way they do business.

Before the Supreme Court ruling in late January, the FBI had about 3,000 GPS tracking devices in the field.

Just in case, government lawyers scrambled to get search warrants for weeks before the decision, working to convince judges they had probable cause to believe crimes were taking place.

But after the ruling, FBI officials tell NPR, agents still had to turn off 250 devices that they couldn’t turn back on.

FBI director Robert Mueller III addressed the issue this month at a House Appropriations Committee hearing. He said the ruling will change the way agents work.

“It will inhibit our ability to use this in a number of surveillances where it has been tremendously beneficial,” Mueller said. “We have a number of people in the United States whom we could not indict, there is not probable cause to indict them or to arrest them who present a threat of terrorism. … [They] may be up on the Internet, may have purchased a gun, but have taken no particular steps to take a terrorist act.”

Before the high court decision, the FBI would have deployed electronic trackers to monitor those people. Now, teams of six or eight agents have to watch them, taxing the agency’s resources.

4th Amendment In Computer Age

Andrew Weissmann is the top lawyer at the FBI. He says the Supreme Court made a distinction about the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, ruling that computers that follow suspects are much more intrusive than people doing the same thing.

“The court essentially is saying that you have an expectation of privacy even though if it was done by humans there would be no violation,” Weissmann says. “But because it’s done by machines, it is.”

In the Supreme Court case, FBI agents investigating a cocaine trafficking ring secretly put a GPS tracker on a Jeep belonging to Washington, D.C., nightclub owner Antoine Jones. They kept it there for weeks, without getting approval from a judge.

“In the Jones case, the Supreme Court held that reasonable people do not expect the government to track their location by attaching a GPS device to the bottom of the car for, in that case, 28 days,” says Catherine Crump of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The full implications of the decision are still coming into focus.

A concurring opinion by Justice Samuel Alito said that a month was too long to track a suspect by GPS without a warrant, but two days would probably be fine. That leaves a big gap for law enforcement to figure out on its own.

Weissmann says FBI agents in the field need clear rules. So, for now, he’s telling agents “when in doubt, to obtain a warrant to protect your investigation.”

But he says that’s not always possible.

“And the problem with that is that a search warrant requires probable cause to be shown and many of these techniques are things that you use in order to establish probable cause,” Weissmann says. “If you require probable cause for every technique, then you are making it very very hard for law enforcement.”

Beyond GPS Devices

Government lawyers say the Supreme Court decision reaches well beyond electronic trackers.

“That decision is reverberating very quickly into areas that I’m sure lots of you care about: national security, cyber security, privacy, more generally,” said Solicitor General Don Verrilli at a recent Georgetown University Law Center conference.

The Justice Department is predicting new fights over cars that come with GPS already installed, and cameras the FBI sticks on poles to catch drug dealers and speeders.

Then there’s the big enchilada: cell phone data.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear a case this year about whether the government can get access to cell phone location data without a warrant.

You might be surprised to know it but every eight seconds or so, your cell phone can transmit information to a local cell tower signaling where you are.

Crump, of the ACLU, says that’s a lot more intrusive than putting a tracker on someone’s car.

“After all, a cell phone is something you carry with you wherever you go,” Crump says. “And we don’t think the government should be accessing that type of information without a really good reason, which they can demonstrate by getting a warrant from a judge.”

As for Antoine Jones, whose case made Supreme Court history, prosecutors say they’ll try him again — maybe using some of the location data from his cell phone.”

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Record 309-Year Sentence Upheld for Federal Crime Conviction

March 31, 2011

United States Attorney Donald J. Cazayoux, Jr., announced yesterday that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a sentence of 309 years’ imprisonment for Robert Thompson, also known as John Lawson, age 44, of Zachary, Louisiana. Chief U.S. District Judge Ralph E. Tyson imposed the sentence on February 17, 2010, following Thompson’s conviction on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and obstruct justice; seven counts of wire fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering; one count of mail fraud; one count of honest services mail fraud; one count of money laundering; four counts of access device fraud; two counts of aggravated identify theft; one count of computer fraud; one count of bank fraud; and one count of obstruction of justice.

The 309-year sentence constituted the fourth-longest white-collar prison sentence in U.S. history and the longest such sentence in the history of the Middle District of Louisiana. Thompson is currently serving his sentence in a specialized communication management unit located within the maximum security federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. The unit is one of only two in the country and is specially designed to deal with inmates who are prone to use communication with the outside to facilitate additional crimes.

This matter involved Thompson engaging in multiple, long-running conspiracies with numerous co-conspirators to obtain and use the personal and financial information of approximately 150 individuals, churches, financial institutions, and businesses, without their knowledge or authorization, to steal from their bank accounts and use their credit to obtain things of value, including attempting to steal $20,000,000 from one victim’s bank accounts. To facilitate the scheme, Thompson enlisted corrections officers to assist him through bribery and other means.

Despite the affirmation of Thompson’s sentence by the Fifth Circuit, he may still seek redress by appealing his case to the Supreme Court. Thompson may be able to argue his case on grounds of an 8th Amendment violation. The 8th Amendment constitutionally prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court has held, even recently, that the imposition of a sentence must not be disproportionate to the crime. Just last term, the Supreme Court addressed an 8th Amendment argument and reaffirmed the principle that while serious nonhomicide crimes are indeed devastating to the public, they should not be compared to murder in their severity or irrevocability. See Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010).

Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

Bookmark and Share