You Are Only As Free As You Are Allowed To Believe In The USA
It’s perfectly acceptable for agents of the federal government to sneak onto your property at night, attach a GPS tracking device to your car, and then proceed to track your every move—all without a warrant.
A federal court ruled that federal agents who did just this to an Oregon man in 2007 didn’t violate his rights, because he has:
- no expectation of privacy in his driveway and…
- no expectation that the government won’t track his movements.
Privacy advocates are apoplectic.
A Federal Appeals Court imposed a bizarre — and scary — rule that now says the government can monitor you with new technologies virtually anytime it wants — with no need for a search warrant.
Government agents may trespass onto your property, attach a GPS device to your car and track everywhere you go. This doesn’t violate your Fourth Amendment rights, because you do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in your own driveway — and no reasonable expectation that the government isn’t tracking your movements.
It is a dangerous decision — one that, as the dissenting judges warned, could turn America into the sort of totalitarian state imagined by George Orwell.
The decision is particularly offensive because the judges added insult to injury with some shocking class bias: the little personal privacy that still exists, the court suggested, should belong mainly to the rich.
The judges veered into offensiveness when they explained why the defendant’s driveway was not private. It was open to strangers, they said, such as delivery people and neighborhood children, who could wander across it uninvited.
Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, dissenting from the decision, pointed out whose homes are not open to strangers: rich people’s. The court’s ruling, he said, means that:
- People who protect their homes with electric gates, fences and security booths have a large protected zone of privacy around their homes, and…
- People who cannot afford such barriers have to put up with the government sneaking around at night.
In fact, the judge’s dissent continued, the government violated the defendant’s privacy rights in two different ways:
- First, the invasion of his driveway was wrong. The courts have long held that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their homes and in the “curtilage,” a legal term for the area around one’s home.
- Second is the terrible decision about privacy: that once a GPS device has been planted, the government is free to use it to track people without getting a warrant. A major battle rages in the federal and state courts over this issue, and the stakes are high. After all, if government agents can track people with secretly planted GPS devices virtually anytime they want, without having to go to a court for a warrant, we are one step closer to a classic police state — with technology taking on the role of the KGB or the East German Stasi.
Judge Kozinski is a leading conservative, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, but in his dissent he came across as a raging Liberal.
“There’s been much talk about diversity on the bench, but there’s one kind of diversity that doesn’t exist,” he wrote. “No truly poor people are appointed as federal judges, or as state judges for that matter.” The judges in the majority, he charged, were guilty of “cultural elitism.”
“1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it’s here at last,” Chief Judge Kozinski passionately lamented in his dissent.
And invoking Orwell’s totalitarian dystopia where privacy is essentially nonexistent, he warned: “Some day, soon, we may wake up and find we’re living in Oceania.”
Some combination of GPS-related privacy cases will probably be heard by the Supreme Court in the next year.
For those who don’t want to wait around for the Supreme Court to decide, Gizmodo.com offers a list of the best GPS jammers for your money.