Following the pattern set by the National Security Agency (NSA), the Justice Department last week refused to disclose how, when, and how often the federal government uses GPS to track vehicles.
As a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) petition filed last July, on January 16 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) received two internal Justice Department memos setting out the department’s policies regarding tracking of citizens using GPS technology.
At least that’s what the documents purported to reveal. In reality, the pair of memos sent to the ACLU by the DOJ were largely blacked out, leaving all but the barest of background information completely redacted.
As is customary among the participants in the government project to place every American under constant surveillance and make every citizen a suspect, Justice Department attorneys argue that the information requested by the ACLU in the FOIA petition could be used to help criminals escape capture by law enforcement.
The ACLU isn’t convinced, however.
"The Justice Department’s unfortunate decision leaves Americans with no clear understanding of when we will be subjected to tracking — possibly for months at a time — or whether the government will first get a warrant," writes ACLU attorney Catherine Crump. "Privacy law needs to keep up with technology, but how can that happen if the government won’t even tell us what its policies are?"
The Supreme Court bears a portion of the blame for the confusion. The decision handed down in January in the case of United States v. Jones left several critical constitutional questions unanswered — perhaps purposefully so.
In the Jones case, the Supreme Court unanimously held that law enforcement violated the Fourth Amendment by conducting “unreasonable searches and seizures” by installing a GPS tracking device to a suspect’s car without first obtaining a probable-cause warrant.
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