I don’t understand the mental gymnastics required to believe that this kind of thing is OK:
Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old computer salesman and community college student, took his car in for an oil change earlier this month and his mechanic spotted an odd wire hanging from the undercarriage.
The wire was attached to a strange magnetic device that puzzled Afifi and the mechanic. They freed it from the car and posted images of it online, asking for help in identifying it.
Two days later, FBI agents arrived at Afifi’s Santa Clara apartment and demanded the return of their property — a global positioning system tracking device now at the center of a raging legal debate over privacy rights.
The FBI claims that it has the unrestricted power to attach the GPS tracker to any vehicle it chooses — yours, mine, Afifi’s — without a judicial warrant or other check on its power. The Obama administration agrees, as does the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco. In a case involving an alleged marijuana trafficker, the court ruled that “the only information the agents obtained from the tracking devices was a log of the locations where Pineda-Moreno’s car traveled, information the agents could have obtained by following the car.”
But Alex Kozinski, the chief judge of the 9th Circuit, very much disagrees, arguing that the device is something straight out of Orwell’s “1984″:
“By holding that this kind of surveillance doesn’t impair an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, the panel hands the government the power to track the movements of every one of us, every day of our lives.”
A federal appeals court in Washington agrees with Kozinski and has ruled that a warrant is required. It threw out the conviction of an alleged cocaine dealer who had been tracked for four weeks using the GPS device. The question appears headed for the Supreme Court, where — astonishly to me — legal experts predict that use of the device will be upheld.
So what makes the GPS tracking system different than being tailed? To my mind, it’s the installation of the device on another person’s property, without their permission and knowledge and without having to justify to a court why the intrusion is necessary. That seems a blatant violation of the right to privacy and the expectation of privacy.
At its root, the issue comes down to the Founders’ intent in trying to protect individual rights. No, they didn’t explicitly write prohibitions of such practices into the Bill of Rights, because they could not have conceived of the technology involved. But had they known, I have no doubt they would have rejected a warrantless intrusion of this magnitude by government.
(FYI, in the case used as an example above, Afifi’s attorney claims that he “was targeted because of his extensive ties to the Middle East, which include supporting two brothers who live in Egypt and making frequent overseas trips,” NPR reports. “His father was a well-known Islamic-American community leader who died last year in Egypt.”)