Feds get green light for unlimited GPS tracking

The handwriting has been on the wall for quite some time; and now it’s official, at least for nine far west states – the government can place a GPS tracking device on your car while it is parked on your own property; then track and record your movements for an indefinite period of time, without ever securing a warrant to do so.  This frightening situation is the result of a recent decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

So far, not all federal circuits agree with this decision, and at least one – in the District of Columbia — just days before the Ninth Circuit’s decision, had reached the opposite conclusion.  Clearly, however, this ruling will embolden federal agents and prosecutors in other parts of the country to engage in similar, privacy-invasive and constitutionally suspect surveillance.

This case began with a Drug Enforcement Administration agent’s suspicions in May 2007, that an Oregon man by the name of Juan Pineda-Moreno was buying products from a local Home Depot that were of the type and quantity suspected of use in cultivating marijuana.  To make their job of tracking Pineda-Moreno easier, the agents decided to sneak onto his driveway in the wee hours of the morning and attach a small GPS tracking device to the underside of his car.  Over a four-month period, and replacing the tracking device periodically, the agents eventually were led to a marijuana plot. 

The controversy eventually found its way to the Ninth Circuit, which early this year affirmed the government’s actions.  On August 12th, the court refused a request by Pineda-Moreno to have the entire panel of circuit judges decide the matter; thus giving the feds a green light for warrantless GPS tracking.

A blistering and unusually blunt dissent to the Ninth Circuit’s opinion was issued by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski (a Reagan appointee).  In his dissent, he notes the frightening ramifications for homeowners of the court’s action.

Kozinski correctly concludes that, if allowed to stand, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling will completely “dismantle the zone of privacy” long-recognized for areas adjacent or connected to one’s house.  He then properly chastises his fellow jurists for concluding – against all common-sense understanding — that a homeowner has no “expectation of privacy” in their driveway or their private vehicle parked thereon. 

Laughably, the majority judges apparently believe that because the homeowner in this case failed to post “No Trespassing” signs on his property, or to seal off his driveway with a fence or a gate, he consented to have police surreptitiously enter his property in the dead of night and place a tracking device on his car.  In this, the judges absurdly likened the actions of the agents to a neighborhood child retrieving an errant baseball from underneath the homeowner’s car.

In an even more ludicrous twist of common sense, the majority decided that because the undercarriage of a vehicle is not observable by the public, it is permissible for a GPS tracking device to be placed underneath the car, but perhaps not okay for the very same device to be placed in plain view on the door panel.  The theory apparently being that what is not readily seen by the public is an area over which a person has no “expectation of privacy.”

The Ninth Circuit’s opinion – as absurd on its face as it is — puts directly at risk nearly one-fifth of the country’s population in the western states; and indirectly, homeowners in all 50 states.  And even if the Supreme Court steps in to resolve the inter-circuit disagreement, there’s no guarantee its current configuration would agree with Judge Kozinski.

At least for now, homeowners should watch what they buy at Home Depot, put “No Trespassing” signs on their property, gate their driveways, shoo any wandering kids away, and check under their cars every day.

37 comments Add your comment

John Galt

September 6th, 2010
6:35 am

Outrageous!! Common sense & sound judgement have left the building – and the court system.

barking frog

September 6th, 2010
6:45 am

The Courts are Government. Government supports Government.
This relieves the Courts from issuing a warrant which they would
have issued anyway. No change, less work.

Biting Frog

September 6th, 2010
7:29 am

Ahh yes true, but if government agents are forced to get a warrant for this type of activity, there is a paper trail and supposed legal justification. Agents just randomly popping tracking devices onto cars
at will, on private property, is a very very bad idea. Think it through, where does this road lead?


September 6th, 2010
7:48 am

“where does it lead?” you ask, biting frog. it leads to marijuana fields, oh my, where brown men like juan are smoking this poison… with, with, with WHITE women! NOOOOOOOO!!!!! gotta love racism in drug enforcement. some things never change.


September 6th, 2010
8:01 am

My question is, how did they know what he was buying from Home Depot in the first place? Are they reporting us to the feds now?


September 6th, 2010
8:22 am

I always thought it would be cool to develop some kind of application that tracks all emergency vehicles, including police cars. You could simply look on your iphone to see where all of those vehicles are located in real time.


September 6th, 2010
8:24 am

So, if you booby-trap your own car on your own private property, and someone gets zapped by a stun gun when they screw with your vehicle, are you going to be in trouble, or is the cop going to get arrested for tresspassing?

This is why I have dogs. They bark if anyone even farts near my house. The last thing I need is for the police to track my vehicle and find out I’ve been spending too much time at Best Buy looking at camera equipment. My wife hates that.


September 6th, 2010
8:28 am

Gotta protect the public from dangerous criminals Bob, And when it comes to public safety, money’s no object. The government spent over 12 million dollars nailing Tommy Chong. I can’t speak for all us, but the nine months Mr Chong was off the streets, I did’nt have to worry about that mad man coming out of a dark alley and pulling a joint on me. That’s gotta be worth something.We might not make anything in this county anymore. So what if we fight our wars with money we borrow from China. When it comes to locking up people we’re the best in world. We average about 700 inmates per 100,000 Thousand Those Pansies in the European Union average less tha 80. No wonder their crime rates are lower than ours. The damned idiots aren’t properly training their criminals. How do ever expect a poor kid to pick up the finer points of robbing, rape and murder without a proper prison education?


September 6th, 2010
8:30 am

If you own title to a car and pay local taxes on it, it should be your property regardless of where it’s parked. What happened to private investigators? Technology has evidently replaced their jobs too. Just wonderful!


September 6th, 2010
8:45 am

Where does it lead to??? It leads to politicians using GPS to eliminate competition. Imagine: Candidate A gets police to attach GPS to candidate B’s car. Candidate B is then lured to unsavory places to pick up campaign donations, places he may never go to otherwise. Candidate A gets travel records of candidate B, showing his visits to liquor sales, strip clubs, gay bars and such. Who wins the election?

It’s sort of like how the federal politicians use the IRS to eliminate competition. I guess I’m just a cynic, not trusting positicians.


September 6th, 2010
9:23 am

The part of the story that is truly unconstitutional is that if the resident has a gate around their house that makes it unlawful to go onto their property. If a person is suspected of criminal activity it should make no difference. Private business has tracking devices on the vehicles their employees drive, government has tracking devices on the vehicles their employees drive, it is one small step for devices to be placed on private citizens vehicles. They are used all the time by almost everybody, in hospitals, with exconvicts. I really do not think that the populance should worry about the erroding away of their privacy. Like the memory on my computer, I shred my stuff, but it is still out there, it just takes a little more time to find it.

T. Paine

September 6th, 2010
9:44 am

What Mr. Barr doesn’t explore in this commentary is the idea that people without fences, walls, security personnel or guards are the only ones who have to worry about having the police violate their property without a warrant or court order. So if you live in a gated community or can afford a walled compound with security guards, you are apparently immune.

So now what everybody always suspected (rich people don’t have to worry about being hassled by the cops like the rest of us) is actually delineated in judicial precedent.

This is not good.

Hillbilly Deluxe

September 6th, 2010
9:46 am

I always thought trespassing was illegal, whether you posted a sign or not. Not anymore I guess.


September 6th, 2010
9:49 am

I have no problem with it. I have no thing to hide. If I was doing illegal stuff, I would probably be worried, but since I’m not. This doesn’t apply to me. I read this story last week in the L.A. Times. I wouldn’t be surprised that the person that was caught was ratted out by someone close to him.

Fatwa Arbuckle

September 6th, 2010
10:24 am

Nelson –

Actually, I think the part which makes this outrageously unconstitutional is that LE can both trespass on your property and install the GPS device without a warrant. Not even the minimal “checks and balances” afforded by being forced to get a judge to scrawl their signature on a piece of paper.

Which means that the cops can surveil you on a whim just because they feel like it.


September 6th, 2010
10:36 am

@Reader–”When they came for the Jews I said nothing, because I wasn’t a Jew.”


September 6th, 2010
10:38 am

I don’t belong to any organized political party,
I’m a Democrat. Will Rodgers-

‘Shoulders to the wheel’.


Barring Logic

September 6th, 2010
11:36 am

Oh please. If the Feds go around putting this on all vehicles, then we all certainly ARE paying too much taxes. If knowing where I shop for eggs is the highest priority they have, then fire them and reduce taxes.

The problem is that this isn’t what they are doing. They need this ability to track suspects, you know, of the terriorits type – remember 9/11?

Watching my driveway

September 6th, 2010
11:36 am

OR, buy a gun, and shoot anything that moves in the yard.

What's good for the Goose

September 6th, 2010
11:47 am

I say what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Lets have the police put GPS trackers on all the judges involved in this ruling and see what roads that takes us to.

Fatwa Arbuckle

September 6th, 2010
1:56 pm

“They need this ability to track suspects, you know, of the terriorits type – remember 9/11?”

Barring Logic –

Then they can make their case to a judge and get a warrant. (Which is not much protection against government abuse of individual freedom any more, given that nearly all judges seem to sign ‘em without much thought these days.)

Additionally, someone growing pot is not precisely the same danger to our country as guys hijacking commercial jetliners and using them as flying bombs to murder as many people as possible.

get out much?

September 6th, 2010
2:14 pm

Interesting that Mr. Barr brings up President Reagan’s name while lauding the dissenting judge but leaves out the fact the President Reagan’s “War on Drugs” lead to the use of the GPS tracking device.

Captain America

September 6th, 2010
3:39 pm

If a DEA agent doesn’t need a warrant to put a GPS transmitter on a car neither does anyone else. I wander what those judges are doing in their off hours?

aaron humes

September 7th, 2010
4:22 am

BARKING DOG – no! The courts are NOT government. They certainly try to be. Government legislates. Courts enforce laws – or should be. Hate GPS? Buy a gun!

Redneck Convert (R--and proud of it)

September 7th, 2010
8:53 am

Well, looks like the only place you can have some privacy is in your bathroom. And I bet even that’s doubtful. When you set down on the pot this a.m., did you look and check and see if there might could be a little camera down there pointing at your Privates? And next think you know the pictures will show up on the innernet and everybody and his dog will know how Tiny you are.

I know what I’m going to get at Home Depot after work today. A bunch of lumber to build a shed around my Ford F-450 before some cop puts a GPS on it. If I want them to know where I’m going, they can call me and ask.


September 7th, 2010
10:27 am

so, stupid ? but by that reasoning even IF you have enclosed garage(s) (I do) couldn’t they still stick a bug on your car in the Lowe’s (I don’t shop at that orange place – long story) parking lot or while you’re at work? sure, there’s a slight risk of being spotted but that’s trivially solved by a 2nd cop & a radio…


September 7th, 2010
10:35 am

Amazing how the reactionary right sound like left wing hippies. Bob, maybe they can use a GPS to track adulterous spouses?


September 7th, 2010
11:10 am

I like how all the lefties went berserk when Bush wanted to have warrantless wire taps on only know terrorist making call to outside the US, where are they now when Obozo allows the warrantless GPS tracking of Americans?

Dr. Pangloss

September 7th, 2010
11:33 am

September 6th, 2010
8:22 am

I always thought it would be cool to develop some kind of application that tracks all emergency vehicles, including police cars. You could simply look on your iphone to see where all of those vehicles are located in real time.
We already have the reverse: E911. Unless your cellphone is pretty old, the emergency responders can track your cellphone’s location in case you’re too badly hurt to give good directions.


September 7th, 2010
11:56 am

What happens if I find the GPS tracking device and remove it? Am I guilty of tampering with government property? I am curious to see how that one would play out.


September 7th, 2010
12:37 pm

This is what the GOP is all about.


September 7th, 2010
12:39 pm

It’s true, Dr. Pangloss. As long as your cell phone is on the authorities can track you. As I understand it, you have to turn it off and take out the battery.


September 7th, 2010
12:42 pm

Clearly there should be warrants issued with a justification before tracking someones vehicle. There is no other reasonable interpretation unless government control under a police state is a new agenda, in which case, the government is no longer ‘of the people’.


September 7th, 2010
1:13 pm

You could simply look on your iphone to see where all of those vehicles are located in real time.

Heck, just go to the nearest Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts. That’s where the cops hang out, when they’re not scarfing down free meals at restaurants. No need for an iphone.

Thomas G. Blankenship

September 7th, 2010
1:33 pm

If you are not doing something illegally what do you have to be concerned with? Just as with phone tapping, they can listen to all the calls they want if it means there is a CHANCE that someone doing something illegal could be caught.
The moral fiber of this country is going fast, we all better wake up.

Jonathon Q. Publinski

September 9th, 2010
8:30 am

Seriously??? If you think there are enough resources (let alone interest) to place GPS units on every citizen’s vehicle in the country because it’s not strictly forbidden (for law enforcement), then you are further removed from reality than it appears.

Why do we tolerate and protect drug dealers and deviants in this country? Why are we not doing more to root them out? Just because you are an upstanding, law-abiding citizen does not mean the guy living next door to you is.

All freedom comes with cost. Keep tying the hands of your law enforcement and eventually you will have to get your own hands dirty and do the job yourself. Good luck.

Gps Vehicle Tracking

September 20th, 2010
6:22 am

The tracking device is useful when we use it require places and it is not good that government forced to place GPS units on every citizen’s vehicles. So, i thik this is not a good ides that GPS unit place on the private vehicles.