Most of the time, we here at Pnosker talk about how technology is making our lives easier, safer and better. In fact it is very easy for us to become seduced by the newest technology and shiniest gadgets that the idea of technology being used for antagonistic purposes to the three I outlined above doesn’t really cross our minds all that often. And indeed, I would be willing to argue that for the most part, the idea that technology moves us forward holds true (the Arab Spring is a testament to that). But throughout the myriad of product announcements and new features there pops up, every now and again, a story that realigns my perspective and clears away the mystique that surrounds technological advancements. After all, technology is just the newest set of tools to help us accomplish our goals. Whether these goals are benign or malevolent is completely up to us. And sometimes these tools may come as double edged swords which can be used against us instead of to our benefit.
What am I talking about? Well it seems that a federal judge in Missouri won’t be waiting for the Supreme Court’s ruling on U.S. vs. Jones, a decision which will determine whether law enforcement officials need a warrant to put a GPS tracking device on a person’s car. Instead, Judge David Noce has ruled that the FBI was in within its legal right to use GPS tracking on a suspect’s car without a warrant to prove their suspicions.
The FBI started tracking Fred Robinson’s movements for about two months on the suspicion that he was a “ghost employee “of the St. Louis City Treasurer’s Office, collecting over $175,000, without working a single day. And it seems the FBI were correct because the tracking information allegedly proves that the employment time sheets Robinson turned in to the Treasury Office in the months of January, February and March were false.
When brought to court, Robinson’s lawyers wanted the evidence obtained from the GPS device dismissed on the grounds of illegal search and seizure but Judge Noce ruled that the
installation of the GPS tracker device… was not a ‘search’ because defendant Robinson did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the exterior of his [car].”
Now don’t get me wrong, this guy is clearly guilty. But the problem I have with this story is the way in which the FBI operated. Firstly, as Kashmir Hill from Forbes pointed out in her article, there was a far easier way to ascertain whether this man was actually working: just ask his colleagues how often he showed up. Secondly, this ruling represents a frightening precedent that would allow the US government to track its citizens. Talk about Big Brother.
But in all seriousness, even Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer had severe reservations in November when the Jones case was brought up, stating that
if you win this case, there is nothing to prevent the police or government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States.”
And with the pervasiveness of location-revealing devices and apps, it is becoming increasingly easier for someone’s real time whereabouts to be revealed, giving the phrase “follow on Twitter” a much more literal interpretation.
The use of technology for the worse is by no means a new concept. But as the scientific and technological breakthroughs become more and more impressive, so too, do the dangers of their misuse. In my humble opinion, the recent trend of governmental and corporate technological use has been a slippery slope towards reducing some of our freedoms. But I digress into the jurisdiction of a different type of website so I will leave you with this question: Do you think GPS tracking without a warrant should be legal? Please leave us your thoughts in the comments section below.