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GPS Tracking
May 9, 2011 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Battle Brews Over FBI’s Warrantless GPS Tracking. How to Check Your Car for a GPS Tracker. FBI Vehicle-Tracking Device: The Teardown. Video: The Dissection of an FBI Bumper-Beeper. Previously.
posted by homunculus (81 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Instead, she was a member of Food Not Bombs.

Apparently the military-industrial complex knows who its real enemies are.
posted by mek at 10:12 AM on May 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


{ Insert "If you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about" here. }
posted by Thorzdad at 10:15 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope, "here" refers to the speaker's ass.
posted by cmoj at 10:18 AM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


relevant
posted by finite at 10:19 AM on May 9, 2011


I wonder if it would be feasible to skip the battery entirely, not by attaching to the vehicle battery or otherwise tapping into the existing electrical system, but by using a magnet and coil ... as the wheel of the car turns, well, you're pushing a magnet by the coil (or vice versa) and creating a current.

You would need some good capacitors to not only smooth out the power but also take care of those little pauses that would be so detrimental while acquiring a lock on the GPS satellites, but the idea does not seem completely unworkable.

The added benefit is that, when you stop to check your car for signals being transmitted from your vehicle, the signals cease by the time you get out of the car. Stop, wave your wand around the bumper, "nope, no transmissions."

I'm Feeble, I'm Boring, I'm Incompetent — and I am available for hire.
posted by adipocere at 10:23 AM on May 9, 2011


I though all the terrorists were riding bicycles.
posted by fuq at 10:24 AM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The first article states -

"The use of GPS tracking devices is poised to become one of the most contentious privacy issues before the Supreme Court, should the high court agree to hear an appeal filed by the Obama administration last month. The administration is seeking to overturn a ruling by a lower court that law enforcement officials must obtain a warrant before using a tracker.

The constitutional matter until now has been left to district courts around the country to decide, resulting in a patchwork of conflicting rulings about the need for warrants.
"

So as of right now it's apparently regionally dependent on court decisions? That's got to be a huge pain in the arse for law enforcement and for groups like the ACLU alike.

On the subject of monitoring private citizens under the auspices of antiterrorism, it's funny how it's always the environmentalists who find these devices and yet all the right-wing anti-government wackaloons never reveal these devices have been found. That leads me to one of the following conclusions :

i) They save the really good tech for those guys.
ii) Those guys are fucking stupid.
iii) The government is not watching those guys.
iv) They are being watched and do report it but the media doesn't give two shits if an Illinois Nazi has a GPS tranmitter on his station wagon.
posted by longbaugh at 10:28 AM on May 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


The use of GPS tracking devices is poised to become one of the most contentious privacy issues before the Supreme Court, should the high court agree to hear an appeal filed by the Obama administration last month. The administration is seeking to overturn a ruling by a lower court that law enforcement officials must obtain a warrant before using a tracker.

DAMMIT OBAMA.
posted by JHarris at 10:32 AM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


The use of GPS tracking devices is poised to become one of the most contentious privacy issues before the Supreme Court

It's strange to me that the concern is for devices planted covertly by the FBI--one would think the bigger issue would be access to information related to the various GPS-enabled pieces of tech we carry with us voluntarily.
posted by Hoopo at 10:36 AM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


adipocere - did you ever see one of those "light a 60 watt bulb via pedaling this bike" exhibit ? Had to pedal my ass off to get it to flicker..

I think the drain on the tires and/or pull (if it wasn't balanced on both tires) would be noticeable..
posted by k5.user at 10:36 AM on May 9, 2011


Pen Register.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:39 AM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


as the wheel of the car turns, well, you're pushing a magnet by the coil (or vice versa) and creating a current

You wouldn't really even need to use the wheel; if the electronics package was well-optimized, you could probably put a good permanent magnet inside a tube with a coil around it, some springs on each end, and then put it somewhere on the suspension where it would get bounced up and down a lot.

I suspect the part that would really cost you power is transmitting the location in real time; if you did some sort of burst transmission that only happened periodically or on-demand (i.e. you log the data and then have someone do a walkby with some sort of reader at night to download it) then you could probably let it go indefinitely, and it would be very hard to detect.

As more cars have electronics with an integrated backhaul like OnStar, I think these sorts of bugs will become obsolete; it'll just be a matter of presenting a court order to the people who run the monitoring service and having them turn on the GPS. If the car has a constant data connection, as I am convinced most new cars will within the next decade, then a few extra bytes of position data every few seconds will probably go unnoticed. And that's assuming that the service operator won't be routinely logging location data as a matter of course anyway (which they will, because that's how you get real-time traffic information and that is worth $$$, so good luck turning that off).
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:48 AM on May 9, 2011


We're winning the future!
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:54 AM on May 9, 2011


DAMMIT OBAMA.

Sigh... I know its really tempting to blame Obama for everything that happens anywhere in the executive branch, but really this is just the DoJ being the DoJ. That's not to say that Obama couldn't change this policy if he wanted to, and I dearly wish he would, but to say that this is something that Obama has caused to happen (or even thought carefully about) may be stretching it.

Kadin2048 also raises the sad truth which is that physically placing a GPS tracker on a car is a police tactic that will soon go completely out of necessity. The car doesn't even need to have OnStar. Each of you, I guarantee, is already carrying a tracking device (voluntarily) that is recording your whereabouts to within a fairly small area. Its called a cell phone, your provider is storing a phenomenal amount of data on where you've been, and the government can force them to turn it over in some cases with just a subpoena, and in other cases with a judge approved court order (the standard is different depending on where in the country you are, but in no jurisdiction does the government need a probable cause warrant).
posted by Inkoate at 10:54 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think a court order will even be required, if our experience with the telcos is any guide. Or, you know, TomTom, sending data to the police. "Here you go!"
posted by adipocere at 10:55 AM on May 9, 2011


Subject has left the grocery co-op, heading northwest on 3rd Street. She may be armed with kombucha and should be considered dangerous.
posted by theodolite at 10:56 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


iFixit teardown article
posted by DreamerFi at 10:56 AM on May 9, 2011


It's strange to me that the concern is for devices planted covertly by the FBI--one would think the bigger issue would be access to information related to the various GPS-enabled pieces of tech we carry with us voluntarily.

This has been an ongoing legal battle since 2005, so yes, it does look a bit dated given the state of the game now. Since we now know cellphone companies are recording location data and we know that American authorities can conduct cellphone location tracking without a warrant, these issues run much deeper. (With a warrant they can turn your cellphone into a bug.) It's just yet another example of how the Obama administration is working to preserve every single expansion of the security state achieved by Bush.

It's unfortunately apparent that there is an enormous military-industrial security apparatus busying itself by persecuting environmentalists and dope dealers, and that these assaults on individual liberty constitute an assault on democracy itself. This is the true cost of the "War on Terror", the death of America by a thousand self-inflicted cuts.
posted by mek at 10:57 AM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Or, you know, TomTom, sending data to the police. "Here you go!"

TomTom admits police used data for speed traps
posted by the_artificer at 11:02 AM on May 9, 2011


rubber baby buggy bumper beeper
posted by desjardins at 11:07 AM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


did you ever see one of those "light a 60 watt bulb via pedaling this bike" exhibit

Well, yes, but It's a good thing we're not talking about 60W lightbulbs ... a SiRFstar III GPS receiver, which is common enough that it's popular with hobbyists and isn't even that cutting-edge, takes 62 milliwatts. So we're three orders of magnitude less than the lightbulb.

You'd need to package it together with a microcontroller and some memory and some way of reading the data off, but there you could probably use low-power micros and RFID parts. TI has a micro with 2048B of integrated memory (MSP430L092) that claims just 45 µA in active mode, and you'd only need to flip it to active mode every few seconds to actually record a position reading or do something else. The rest of the time it could just idle at a fraction of that. Maybe you could even do the same thing with the GPS receiver, depending on what kind of resolution you want and how good it is at locking.

(Actually with some casual Googling, I found one that claims 2.7mW, operating off of 2.7VDC. That's even better than I thought. Heck, you could run that for four months off of a disposable AA-size lithium thionyl chloride battery, if my envelope math is correct.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:12 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The one thing with cell phones is that most people who are security conscious tend to use pre-paid disposable cell phones. Which aren't linked to people and don't cost all that much. It's harder to get pre-paid disposable cars.
posted by Hactar at 11:17 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


iv) They are being watched and do report it but the media doesn't give two shits if an Illinois Nazi has a GPS tranmitter on his station wagon.

v) they don't want to report it to the liberal media who are probably in on it
posted by Hoopo at 11:23 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why the FBI is actively targeting members of an organization that feeds the homeless. I help a chapter here in Iowa -- I'm currently in the yellow pages looking for a garage that will change my oil and sweep for transmitters.
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 11:36 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Inkoate: Each of you, I guarantee, is already carrying a tracking device (voluntarily) that is recording your whereabouts to within a fairly small area. Its called a cell phone [...]

Or what? Under the terms of your guarantee, to what am I now entitled by virtue of the fact that I don't carry, have or desire a mobile phone? (And haven't, for maybe ten years now?)

This strange, apparently-incomprehensible and obviously socially unacceptable choice is motivated not so much by privacy concerns or fear of government snoops, but rather by the simple fact that I find it more convenient to not have one. (Though I admit the snooping gives me a feeling of validation about the already-made decision.)

I am not a heart surgeon or a head of state. There is no reason I can see to give people -- even those I like and care about -- the means interrupt my life whenever the mood strikes them. I am not on 24-hour call for anyone until and unless they are willing to pay me handsomely for the privilege.

I'm happy to give you (even you, the Internet at large) various ways to contact me directly. But I will deal with those contacts when it is convenient for me to do so. In the meantime, I'll try to practice focus and mindfulness, and give my full care and attention to where I am and what I'm doing.

Plus, I'm peevish enough to enjoy the inevitable arguments with people who think there's no way I really don't have a mobile phone, and the reason I won't give them the number can only be -- by process of elimination -- personal dislike.
posted by sourcequench at 11:40 AM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't understand why the FBI is actively targeting members of an organization that feeds the homeless.

Because it's work. Got to pay the bills somehow.

I would wager that almost nobody in the FBI actually believes that a bunch of hippies driving around in old Volvos, eating too many lentils, and talking about saving Mother Earth are really dangerous in any meaningful sense of the word. But if you've got a complicated and expensive covert surveillance capability, then by God you've got to surveill somebody or else you'll lose your budget and die. Like a shark that stops moving.

I once worked on a proposal for a major Beltway Bandit consulting firm that was trying to get a security gig for the Athens Olympics. One thing they played up big time was their in depth understanding of "terrorist graffiti." Yes, apparently terrorists use all kinds of secret communication methods, including graffiti, and you'd better hire us because we know all this shit.

I never could figure out what they meant by terrorist graffiti. I imagined some kind of hobo code with symbols that meant things like "place bomb here" or "If you can read this, don't be near this spot at Thursday at 10:30."
posted by Naberius at 11:44 AM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, sourcequench. I bet you don't have a TV, either.

I was sure glad to have one when my car broke down, especially seeing as I'm a small woman and I was alone on a strange road at midnight. I too am not a heart surgeon.
posted by desjardins at 11:46 AM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ooh. I have kind of an interest in electronic surveillance, my favorite is the hookswitch bypass harmonica bug, featured in "The Conversation". Versions have been in use for over 30 years.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:48 AM on May 9, 2011


sourcequench: I'm with you. I quit having a cell phone nearly a decade ago, and really don't find my life lacking. Again, I quit having it because I was tired of having people intrude into my life all the time. I'm home plenty, and have an answering machine there which works great. I have a couple of email addresses I check very regularly. It's not like people can't find me. They just can't bug me whenever they choose.

All the stuff that's come out in the intervening years about how they can be used against the person carrying the phone.... only reinforces my happiness at having broken the habit a long time ago.

It's nice to know I'm not the only one!
posted by hippybear at 11:48 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if it would be feasible to skip the battery entirely, not by attaching to the vehicle battery or otherwise tapping into the existing electrical system, but by using a magnet and coil ... as the wheel of the car turns, well, you're pushing a magnet by the coil (or vice versa) and creating a current.

The problem with this system isn't that it wouldn't work, it's that it would be unbelievably difficult to install. Most of these kinds of GPS trackers are held in place by magnets so that the agent placing it on the car really only has to lean under it for a few moments, which reduces the odds that they'll be discovered and the device will be found.

A better implementation of your idea might involve matching their rim and tire, and using the turning of the wheel itself as a power generating source which stops whenever the vehicle isn't moving. Plus, swapping the tire could be done fairly quickly by people who know what they are doing.

If I ever become a person of interest to a federal agency, I would totally keep a Faraday cage of some kind in my trunk for all the GPS tracking devices my car acquired. Hell, I'd use them as a way of keeping score.
posted by quin at 11:50 AM on May 9, 2011


There is no reason I can see to give people -- even those I like and care about -- the means interrupt my life whenever the mood strikes them. I am not on 24-hour call for anyone until and unless they are willing to pay me handsomely for the privilege.

It's totally fine with me if you don't have a mobile phone. But I just thought you should know it's possible to have one and exercise the prerogative to choose when to answer it, or even to have it powered on.
posted by weston at 11:50 AM on May 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


all the right-wing anti-government wackaloons never reveal these devices have been found.

Group stalking, microchips smaller than a grain of rice that talk to space satellites, your generic cell phone, and facebook.

(I'll leave it up to the readers to figure out the 1st 2.)
posted by rough ashlar at 11:51 AM on May 9, 2011


Dear non-cellphone people:

You do know you don't hafta answer the damn thing every time it rings, right?

Love,

A guy who rarely answers his cellphone

PS. Hey FBI -- nice van!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:55 AM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hactar: It's harder to get pre-paid disposable cars.
Nonsense. Hang around your local convenience store and/or gas station for a while and one will be delivered presently.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:55 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


BitterOldPunk: " You do know you don't hafta answer the damn thing every time it rings, right?"

*twitch*

I can stop...

*blink*

...anytime I want to.

*shudder*
posted by zarq at 12:02 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


You do know you don't hafta answer the damn thing every time it rings, right?

One of my favorite tricks is to set the global ring for all calls to a silent .mp3 with no vibration, and only have audible ringtones for my wife and mom. That way if there is ever anything important, the people who need to reach me can do so instantly, but the rest of the world ends up going quietly to voice-mail (after the phone rings four times, so that they don't assume I'm snubbing them by hitting "end" after seeing their name.)

Learning this trick reduced the background stress level in my life by a lot.
posted by quin at 12:04 PM on May 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


I know its really tempting to blame Obama for everything that happens anywhere in the executive branch, but really this is just the DoJ being the DoJ.

I disagree. The President sets the tone and chooses which battles to fight. This President has never chosen to fight back against expansion of domestic surveillance and has often defended it. The FBI's actions seem perfectly congruent with the tone set by the White House so far.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:05 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


The problem is that it involves a vehicle. They can search a vehicle with probable cause--they don't need a warrant. So it is gonna be hard to say that they need a warrant to track a car once they have probable cause.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:06 PM on May 9, 2011


Damn, sorry I enabled the thread derail with my "guarantee."

Guarantee not available for all MeFi users. No cell phone purchase necessary.
posted by Inkoate at 12:09 PM on May 9, 2011


Dammit, guys, I am trying to be green here.

I mean, if we're going to do the full Panopticon thing, it should at least be Earth-friendly.
posted by adipocere at 12:10 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sigh... I know its really tempting to blame Obama for everything that happens anywhere in the executive branch, but really this is just the DoJ being the DoJ. That's not to say that Obama couldn't change this policy if he wanted to, and I dearly wish he would, but to say that this is something that Obama has caused to happen (or even thought carefully about) may be stretching it.
Well, he is, you know... the executive in executive branch. He may not have been specifically aware of this, or given it much though, but he should have. The executive branch is quite large, and he can't be aware of all the minutiae going on. However, this IMO is not minutiae. If his underlings didn't see fit to notify him of something like this, or didn't notify him in clear enough terms as to emphasize what exactly was going on, and how important it was, he should get new underlings.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 12:28 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is it really wise to make your tracking device look like a pipe bomb?
posted by ryoshu at 12:30 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, I should correct myself. If he had underlings that seriously thought this was okay, he should get new underlings. Failing that though, he should have underlings that know to notify him of something this ridiculous, and he should make sure they know to notify him of something this ridiculous.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 12:30 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


desjardins: Wow, sourcequench. I bet you don't have a TV, either.

Is that something I'd need to have a TV to...

(Anyway, that's a bet you'd lose. It makes a dandy computer display, recorded movie output device and console vidjagame ritual object.)

I was sure glad to have one when my car broke down, especially seeing as I'm a small woman and I was alone on a strange road at midnight. I too am not a heart surgeon.

Were I small and female and gifted with an affinity for midnight drives on strange roads in unreliable cars, none of those hypothetical conditions would preclude me having my Amateur Extra license and VHF mobile rig. Which solution, BTW, still functions in emergencies general enough to render the mobile phone infrastructure hors de combat, as occurred during our recent hurricane Ike^ (and previously).

And just in case it wasn't absolutely clear: My "heart surgeon" remark wasn't meant as an argument that anyone else needs a reason to carry a mobile beyond simply wanting to. It was meant as a counter-argument to the surprisingly-common assertion that I need to.

BitterOldPunk: Dear non-cellphone people: You do know you don't hafta answer the damn thing every time it rings, right?

Dear BitterOldPunk: We non-cellphone people aren't the ones you need to educate about that particular insight.

And in a token effort at thread re-rail: The ham radio thing is fun and (in dire circumstances) quite useful, but from a privacy standpoint it's nearly as bad as a smartphone. Just having a license exposes all sorts of information (in a way that's mandatory under Federal law) that you'd probably rather not have public. And if you're doing the APRS thing... there goes real-time Internet-accessible position data (and we've been leaking ours since before Facebook was invented).
posted by sourcequench at 12:35 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I had a car, I would cover every available inch of it in stickers reading "This is not probable cause". I mean, at this point in U.S. law being in an automobile is more or less treated as probable cause, but goddamn, it really really shouldn't be.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:36 PM on May 9, 2011


It's harder to get pre-paid disposable cars.

As mentioned, cabs do well, but one could skip the 'pre-paid' option and just go with stolen cars, if you're already in a situation that you need untraceable calling and a specific desire to avoid any government... entanglements. Or just fake an identity and rent a zip car when you need one.
posted by chambers at 12:36 PM on May 9, 2011


If I had a car, I would cover every available inch of it in stickers reading "This is not probable cause".

That'll trash your paint job. I just duct tape a lawyer to the roof of my car. Just in case.

Maybe there should be a 'Trunk Lawyer' option at the car dealerships, a la 'Trunk Monkey'
posted by chambers at 12:40 PM on May 9, 2011


So as of right now it's apparently regionally dependent on court decisions? That's got to be a huge pain in the arse for law enforcement and for groups like the ACLU alike.

Well, that's a feature, not a bug. The only way to make a national standard is to have a district court decision appealed, or for Congress to pass a law.

And generally the law enforcement and ACLU in a particular area know that particular area's case law situation.

...By the way, you know how the FBI heard they needed to put a bumper beeper on your car? Somebody dropped them a whistle tip.
posted by dhartung at 12:46 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Somebody dropped them a whistle tip.

When asked, the FBI stated: "It's all just decoration. That's it and that's all, man. Just decorating the electromagnetic spectrum with waves or energy. Dig it?"
posted by chambers at 12:54 PM on May 9, 2011


Sigh... I know its really tempting to blame Obama for everything that happens anywhere in the executive branch, but really this is just the DoJ being the DoJ. That's not to say that Obama couldn't change this policy if he wanted to, and I dearly wish he would, but to say that this is something that Obama has caused to happen (or even thought carefully about) may be stretching it.
When you're the president, you take responsibility for the actions of the executive branch. This "Well, it's not really Obama" stuff is getting old.
(Actually with some casual Googling, I found one that claims 2.7mW, operating off of 2.7VDC. That's even better than I thought. Heck, you could run that for four months off of a disposable AA-size lithium thionyl chloride battery, if my envelope math is correct.)
The hard part is broadcasting the location. Takes a bit more energy. It doesn't do any good to just record data and not do anything with it.
posted by delmoi at 1:29 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


If it's just a surveillance operation, and not security-critical (because who actually thinks Homeland Security secures the homeland, I mean come on), the FBI doesn't really need to include radio transmitters in the tracking devices. They could keep the data on an RFID chip, then get someone to drive around with a transponder and wave it at whatever vehicles they haven't checked on in a while.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:36 PM on May 9, 2011


Or just fake an identity and rent a zip car when you need one.

Is ZipCar less demanding in terms of their licensing requirements than I'd guess they'd be, or is getting a fake driver's license easier?
posted by weston at 1:53 PM on May 9, 2011


I recall Hannsen complaining about his tracker interfering with the radio.
He was caught.
posted by clavdivs at 2:04 PM on May 9, 2011


Everyone worried about this should buy something like this while they're still legal.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:49 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I find scariest about the tracker device teardown from Wired is the fact that the components the FBI is using are old -- about ten years old. This suggests they've had this technology for that long. The circuit boards are handmade, even, while nowadays you could just grab a couple parts from Sparkfun Electronics (something like this and this) and manage them with a cheap, low-power microcontroller of your choice.
posted by neckro23 at 3:02 PM on May 9, 2011


Or, you know, TomTom, sending data to the police. "Here you go!"

This is a lot less nefarious than it sounds. TomTom sold aggregated road speed data to the Dutch government. The Dutch police examined the data, then increased speed enforcement on stretches of road where people drive fast. More like traffic planning than spying.
posted by ryanrs at 3:06 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everyone worried about this should buy something like [a GPS jammer] while they're still legal.

That device is completely illegal to operate in most countries on Earth. In the US, it's almost certainly illegal to sell, too.
posted by ryanrs at 3:13 PM on May 9, 2011


I found one that claims 2.7mW, operating off of 2.7VDC
posted by @Kadin2048


That's just an antenna - you still need the "receiver" part which processes the raw radio waves picked up by the antenna and calculates a position. The Sirfstar units have the antenna and receiver combined into one part and therefore use more power.
posted by trialex at 3:30 PM on May 9, 2011


When you're the president, you take responsibility for the actions of the executive branch. This "Well, it's not really Obama" stuff is getting old.

Seriously. I didn't see a lot of hesitation on these boards to stretch the last President on the rack of Executive Responsibility.

How badly does Obama have to screw things up before we can quit worrying that people will think we're racist if we criticize him? Serious question. How GOPeevish does he have to get? I voted for the man so I figure I can criticize, usually. Hell, I canvassed for him. But it sure doesn't seem that way. Patriot Act extended? Check. Guantanamo? Still there. Trials for the suspected monsters? Still never happening. Number of war fronts? Increasing. Economy? Still down while our money flows into Defense.... FBI pressing to further intrude and violate the lives of US citizens? Still ongoing... Etc, etc, etc...

Oh wait, I forgot: kill/attack Big Name Bogeyman to distract populace and try to guarantee reelection? Check... Sit in and use cool military hardware during ongoing operation for extra special Commander-in-Chief-y feeling? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt....
posted by umberto at 3:38 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is the stupidest derail ever. You can't stick something inside the car tire because WTF, how would even be possible? Are you going to put the car up on blocks, steals the wheel, and take it to a tire shop so you can use their tire installing machine?

Lithium batteries are smaller, cheaper, and more reliable than the ridiculous power sources that people have mentioned. If you need more power than that, hey, just tap the car battery.
posted by ryanrs at 3:41 PM on May 9, 2011


How badly does Obama have to screw things up before we can quit worrying that people will think we're racist if we criticize him?

I am perfectly comfortable criticizing Obama on the issues and the areas where I feel that he has failed to perform up to his promises.

I think it becomes racism when the focus of people's criticism is him as a person and particularly in those areas that he 1.) has no control and 2.) when people are applying a scrutiny that was never applied to any previous president (birthers, schoolers or whatever they are calling themselves, etc).

You can't stick something inside the car tire because WTF, how would even be possible? Are you going to put the car up on blocks, steals the wheel, and take it to a tire shop so you can use their tire installing machine?

My suggestion was that if the agents new what kind of car they were going to be targeting, they would bring a matching rim and tire with the GPS transmitter already installed inside. It is trivially easy to lift up a car and replace it's tire; in my misspent youth, a friend of mine and I stole a car's rear tire with nothing other than a tire iron and a strong back. Total time elapsed was about 1 minute.
posted by quin at 3:48 PM on May 9, 2011


And the local FBI office is going to want to source matching rims every time they want someone followed? To avoid buying batteries? You're crazy.

Even tire pressure monitors, which are already inside the tire, use lithium batteries.
posted by ryanrs at 3:58 PM on May 9, 2011


The thing about that bug - which is closer to twenty years old than ten - is that the transmitter is awfully weedy and on a very crowded, short-range frequency. You'd be lucky to pick up the signal more than a block or so away.

Which means one of two things: either it is designed to be followed closely by someone with a receiver at all times (close enough to eyeball the darn car), or there is/was an enormous network of local receivers, practically one per street, that relay the information on.

Neither makes much sense to me. So: uh?
posted by Devonian at 4:02 PM on May 9, 2011


Or periodically the FBI would come by and initiate a data dump.
posted by procrastination at 4:06 PM on May 9, 2011


Don't think that circuit could cope with that. It's very simple.
posted by Devonian at 4:15 PM on May 9, 2011


So, if one found one of these on their car or even some other car in a parking lot, would it be so terrible to remove it and reattach it to say, a bus or some large, wild animal?
posted by Extopalopaketle at 4:43 PM on May 9, 2011


It's very simple.

No, it's not. Take a careful look at the controller board. There are actually two boards in that picture: a smaller board soldered onto a larger board.

The smaller board is the u-blox GPS receiver. It has a large metal rectangle with a white sticker, a surface mount coax connector, a crystal, a MAX795S chip, and another crystal.

The larger board is only slightly bigger than the u-blox board. It has three capacitors and two coils, all to the left of the u-blox daughter board. This board is not part of the GPS receiver.

On the back of the controller board we find some power supply circuitry, a couple of crystals, a small battery, and a huge 100-pin processor. No doubt this is the brains of the device. It could certainly handle two-way communications, plus logging, encryption, and plenty more.

There are probably more parts on the top side of the board hiding under the u-blox board.
posted by ryanrs at 5:03 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


How badly does Obama have to screw things up before we can quit worrying that people will think we're racist if we criticize him? Serious question.
What?
posted by delmoi at 5:21 PM on May 9, 2011


Sometimes old hippies who volunteer to feed the homeless and protest stuff are also selling large quantities of drugs, manufacturing meth or actually involved in some super illegal stuff. Also sometimes they purchase old old police gear and make up stories about how the FBI is following them because they are attention starved or just nuts.
posted by humanfont at 5:29 PM on May 9, 2011


So if here in California using one of these is considered no different than physically tailing someone does that mean that I can attach objects like this to the cars of local politicians, police, judges, and attorneys? Because it seems like they're saying(PDF of the CA decision) that it wouldn't be an invasion of privacy for me to keep a database of where people go while they are on and off work. I could even attach tracking devices to police cars while they're parked at Starbucks and make a google maps mashup that showed where all the police cars in the area were in real time.
posted by JackarypQQ at 5:34 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sometimes old hippies who volunteer to feed the homeless and protest stuff are also selling large quantities of drugs, manufacturing meth or actually involved in some super illegal stuff. Also sometimes they purchase old old police gear and make up stories about how the FBI is following them because they are attention starved or just nuts.

What the fuck are you talking about?
posted by hippybear at 5:38 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Don't feed the troll.
posted by mek at 5:50 PM on May 9, 2011


Kathy Thomas could be involved in all kinds of stuff. We have her version of events. I think that the device is actually an old product made sold by a company once known as SiGem, now Mobile Knowledge -- who makes trackers for taxi cabs and other things including police. An eBay search indicates their old stuff does show up fro time to time. It isn't trolling to be skeptical of her story and the underlying facts.
posted by humanfont at 7:49 PM on May 9, 2011


The thing about that bug - which is closer to twenty years old than ten

The GPS receiver module it uses came out in 1999, and taking a wild guess at interpreting the date codes on the other components, I'd say the device was built in 2001 or so. As people said in the last thread, this is probably old, borderline-obsolete tracking technology available for cheap to police departments who need to find something to spend their DHS antiterror budget on.

I wonder if it would be feasible to skip the battery entirely

It would be (ambient energy harvesting is a thing) but as ryanrs says it's easier to stick a few batteries in there and swap out the device every six months.
posted by hattifattener at 9:56 PM on May 9, 2011


It isn't trolling to be skeptical of her story and the underlying facts.

Denying her story in the particular does nothing to deny the problem in general, which is the subject of discussion of both the article and this thread. You tried to generalize from this specific case, which you doubt, made spurious and groundless accusations of Kathy Thomas, and then dismissed the issue. I assume the ongoing jurisprudence is just the result of a collective delusion?
posted by mek at 2:06 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


You have yet to establish the problem in general. We have two isolated cases and a bunch of FUD about the evil gummint spying on everyone. Meanwhile you are trying to setup yourself as thread dictator for life, quashing all dissent.
posted by humanfont at 4:43 AM on May 10, 2011


I had a serious eyeroll moment during that video when that "expert" didn't recognize an everyday GPS antenna/receiver that you can buy off the shelf at pretty much any electronic hobbyist store.
posted by Gev at 5:23 AM on May 10, 2011


The article is really just a bunch of sensationalist over top speculation without anything particularly useful. For example comments like, "The FBI really did not want anyone tampering with the innards of their tracking devices. The screws were coated with so much thread locker that we had to break out the power drill and eliminate the screw heads".

The use of threadlocker on something that will be stuck to the bottom of the car, it's diabolical. Sure the device will be shaken around, splashed by water, and road spray, but let's go with the more conspiratorial explanation.
posted by humanfont at 7:39 AM on May 10, 2011


There are dozens of legal challenges on these policies working their way through the courts, several of which were discussed in this thread; I personally linked to three additional cases, just from a cursory googling. If these devices/technologies are not in use, I can't imagine why the DoJ is defending their right to use them and other tracking technologies without warrant on a state-by-state basis, and repeatedly repealing decisions which deem the practice unconstitutional. Feel free to explain that one to us.
posted by mek at 11:43 AM on May 10, 2011


I looked at your posts and I don't see dozens of examples of court challenges. Perhaps I've missed something. It seems that you are upset about cops using anwarrent to bug your cellphone and even perhaps place a bug within your cellphone or turn it into a bug. However that was with a warrant. You also se concerned about the privacy of your phone billing records and the various logs generated by the phone company as your phone pings various cell towers. In the secondse indent should you have any expectation of privacy. You willingly ts the phone company where your phone was every second of the day. You want to keep your movements private stop telling a bunch of interconnected network operators all over town about what you are doing all the time. How is this differed than the cops going to your favorite bar and asking re bartenders if you were there?
posted by humanfont at 4:42 PM on May 10, 2011


In other news: FBI: Customers Might Sue If They Knew Companies Were Helping With Wiretaps
posted by homunculus at 3:30 PM on May 12, 2011


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