After Jones, FBI Cuts Back on GPS Surviellance

February 6th, 2012

See, the Court can do stuff without actually doing anything!

The FBI has begun cutting back GPS surveillance in an array of criminal and intelligence investigations following a Supreme Court ruling last month restricting its use, a federal law enforcement official said.  . . Meanwhile, the official said, additional FBI agents have been dispatched to cover costly, labor-intensive surveillance operations that had previously relied on GPS technology.

The FBI’s actions represent the first evidence of a tactical change by federal law enforcement prompted by the court’s ruling, which has raised new questions throughout the criminal justice and intelligence communities.

And what for it . . . this decision comes at a social cost:

Ray Mey, a former FBI counterterrorism official, said the bureau’s decision to limit GPS use, if only temporarily, poses potential risks and staffing problems.

“This kind of technology is one of the only ways to pinpoint the locations of suspects,” said Mey, who directed counterterrorism operations for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. “The potential to lose someone in traffic in a place like New York is big. Vehicle surveillance is not easy.

“Without (GPS),” he said, “surveillance becomes hugely labor intensive, especially in cases in which you need round-the-clock coverage. It’s something that could strap the bureau.”

Alito made just this point:

In the pre-computer age, the greatest protections of privacy were neither constitutional nor statutory, but practical. Traditional surveillance for any extended period of time was difficult and costly and therefore rarely under- taken. The surveillance at issue in this case—constant monitoring of the location of a vehicle for four weeks— would have required a large team of agents, multiple vehicles, and perhaps aerial assistance.10 Only an investi- gation of unusual importance could have justified such an

expenditure of law enforcement resources. Devices like the one used in the present case, however, make long-term monitoring relatively easy and cheap. In circumstances involving dramatic technological change, the best solution to privacy concerns may be legislative. See, e.g., Kerr, 102 Mich. L. Rev., at 805–806. A legislative body is well situ- ated to gauge changing public attitudes, to draw detailed lines, and to balance privacy and public safety in a com- prehensive way.

Imagine that. When the Court doesn’t decide something itself, the elected branches take note.