The Inner Workings of an FBI Surveillance Device

This FBI surveillance device, designed to be attached to a car, has been taken apart and analyzed.

A recent ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirms that it's legal for law enforcement to secretly place a tracking device on your car without a warrant, even if it's parked in a private driveway.

Posted on May 16, 2011 at 6:31 AM • 97 Comments

Comments

JohnMay 16, 2011 6:40 AM

it must be great to live a free country where you can be spied on without bothering the courts

mcbMay 16, 2011 6:57 AM

"'the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures' doesn’t apply to driveways."

Apparently it doesn't apply to cars either! A fella gets so tied up sweating the GWOT he forgets the "War on Drugs" is still corroding our Constitution.

diablomarcusMay 16, 2011 7:41 AM

This kind of thing is really freaky. The teardown is really cool though! I'm kind of surprised that the FBI might actually sub in their own components...

KevinMay 16, 2011 7:54 AM

If I saw one of these on my car, I would be calling the local police department reporting a pipe bomb.

jacobMay 16, 2011 8:00 AM

My question is what if you find it and rip it to shreds? Will it blend? I've heard that they have threatened people, etc.

Before this story I might have removed it, thrown it away something. Would they prosecute you for it? It's like they put an bug on the old style phone. You replace phones and throw it away. Are you liable for it? Interesting.

Maybe put it on a city bus...Some of the hard wired ones would be a challenge to find in some cases unless you know your wiring harness and can take your dash apart. Maybe I need to watch "v for vendetta" again. Man, they really want to know everything...We've evolved to town gossips to gubmint snitches to electronics. It started with business wanting to make money, than government wanting to know to protect us. joking, barely.

BF SkinnerMay 16, 2011 8:04 AM

Government meme has been COTS for a while now. Even with the big iron.

So here's the thing. If the feebies can track legally. Is removing the thing illegal?

Leave aside for a moment the issue that if you know you've got one of these suckers hanging on your car you're not likely to use it for your villiany, can they simply walk up to a person and say "we're going to attach this device to your car and monitor your movements"

I'm thinking of Imperfect Citizen's case where them what are monitoring her movements seem indifferent to keeping the monitoring clandestine.

Then there are the cases where people are in home confinement and allowed to drive only to and from work. Such a device may be considered for enforceing the court's sentence.

Richard Steven HackMay 16, 2011 8:05 AM

Note that a lot of these things are being used against people who aren't even remotely a "threat to national security" except that they are activists of some sort or the other. It's pure intimidation and harassment - not to mention a waste of taxpayer money.

It's on a par with the FBI posting anti-Semitic flyers in black neighborhoods in the 1960's to get blacks to attack the '60's "revolutionaries" who were Jewish like Abbie Hoffman.

Reminds me of what Hoffman used to say when he was in jail. He would harass the cops by calling them "fags" and "Jews" (which he could do since he was Jewish). He explained that calling cops "Nazis" didn't work because cops LIKE to be called "Nazis", it fits their image of themselves. But they hate being called "fags" and Jews", he explained, because that's what they call each other when they're arguing. He used to taunt the cops by saying he could kick their butts because he wasn't afraid of dying and they were afraid of losing their jobs.

It amuses me how the clean cut image of the FBI continues to be portrayed in the media (including the nicest FBI agent I've ever seen portrayed in the agency's history - Olivia Dunham on Fringe), whereas the reality is considerably worse.

This is a group that couldn't care less about US civil liberties and never did right from the day Hoover took the agency over.

Spaceman SpiffMay 16, 2011 8:05 AM

So, if your car is parked in a closed garage that requires a key of some sort to open, does the process of B&E (Breaking and Entering) to install the device require a warrant, or can they just violate your Constitutionally guaranteed rights without due consideration?

BF SkinnerMay 16, 2011 8:07 AM

How accurate is it? If that thing is hung underneath the chasis won't the GPS signal get blocked?

My phone's GPS can't acquire in a parking garage and it's gotta be sitting under the windshield when I pull out. (one of the reasons, pray note, why Google/Apple say they were tracking cell towers)

Clive RobinsonMay 16, 2011 8:14 AM

Hmm works at the low end of the UHF band with late 1990's low end tech.

Back in the late 1990's I was designing much higher tech devices (think spread spectrum etc).

You can buy all the bits to do this only smaller more energy efficient out of an RS / CPC / DigiKey catalouge and (if your coding is any good) more securely than this device.

You can also buy compleated devices on line for the likes of "fleet managment" and "sales force managment".

What is not clear from the article is the mode it is designed to work in, that is, if it is sending out occasional beacon broadcasts or if it has to be interogated.

For those that fancy having a go at this there is an Israeli company selling a small blue box which is designed to take a Motorola G24 Java programable modual that is a Quad Band mobile phone with in some cases internal GPS.

It takes very little code to get it to respond to SMS messages and send back it's current location etc, or to dial a modem etc to do a bulk upload.

For those who want to do it almost all in software, go look for one of those Linux "Gum stix" with two USB connectors and buy a USB Mobile Broadband dongle and a USB GPS device (both of which normaly look like simple serial devices).

regular_guyMay 16, 2011 8:20 AM

Does this mean I can bug a government vehicle sitting in a driveway or parking lot? I want to ensure my tax dollars aren't being wasted by government employees going to donut shops on the job.

jacobMay 16, 2011 8:39 AM

If I were mean I would go to the fbi office. ask for directions, walk out, and call in the pipe bomb on car from there.

I'm just dumb, innocent, I know nothing. Of course, I would never do something like that. Thinking of the step and fetch chaos. ;)

uk visaMay 16, 2011 8:44 AM

The FBI manages to retain it's 'creepiest of all law enforcement organisations' reputation... Hoover would be proud.

SMay 16, 2011 9:33 AM

So, the two or three of these devices that I've seen on the internet when people have discovered them, are supposedly obsolete/old-fashioned - which I can easily believe; I can't imagine much runs off a big stack of D cells any more. Reports I've read refer to newer tech being wired into vehicle power, as well as maybe the CAN buss.

Can we assume therefore that whatever they're using nowadays is much, much more difficult to detect, as evidenced by the fact I haven't seen pictures of any of the newew sort on Reddit? I know rather a lot about cars and electronics both, and I wouldn't fancy my chances of finding a wired-in tracker on a modern-ish car without a serious in depth look. Even probing for RF emissions wouldn't be much use if it reported each day's worth of movement via a short GSM data connection at 3 in the morning, although I'm sure Clive has a few EMSEC tricks up his sleeve -- either that, or he drives a hand cranked Model T or something!

Also (tinfoil hat time): if you find one of these under your back bumper, how do you know it's the only one? Maybe that's just what they want you to think, and the real thing's half the size of a matchbox and somewhere in the engine bay. Could a target removing the old skool device be seen as an action justifying stepping up surveillance with more modern equipment?

Clive RobinsonMay 16, 2011 9:36 AM

@ BF Skinner,

"How accurate is it? If that thing is hung underneath the chasis won't the GPS signal get blocked?"

In reverse order ;)

Yes the GPS device antenna does need to be able to see three satellites virtualy "line of sight" to get a fix. So the antenna needs to be mounted clear of not just the body work but other electrical items that might produce a "jamming" signal of some kind.

The need to put the GPS antenna reasonably in "the clear" is the big weakness of this system, as you would probably be able to easily spot it with walking around the car, or giving it a wash by hand.

With the old tech this suggests this is probably the low end of their technology and reserved for those who are effectivly "innocent" of anything other than not buying into the latest political stupidity as a good little sheeple and making the mistake of saying so.

The accuracy depends on a number of things most of which can be improved by a larger "patch antenna" seeing a larger patch of sky. The Official accuracy is something like 7.8m 95%.

However it used to be a lot worse, back in the good old days of the cold war the accuracy of GPS was considered very important as you could build (in theory) a crusie missile that used simple GPS and inertial navigation to deliver a 1000Kg "kinetic package" to say the front door of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, without having to walk across the grass etc.

Apparently this was not a good idea (as the rose garden might get mucked up a bit) so thay added noise into the system clocks and emeraphise info (the so called "selective availability" or SA code) to reduce the accuracy.

Well various groups developed "known receiver solutions" or as more often known "Differential GPS" to get around this SA issue (one such group was the US Coast Guard). Also the US troops on the ground in the Gulf War ended up with more reliable and considerably cheeper "commercial" hand held GPS's than the Mil units so the SA code got turned off. And the US Presedent officially said he did not mind back in 2000

Another issue is that the US GPS system has competition and the European system has quite a few advantages (not least that it can also be used in space) so the SA code has become a waste of time and effort. So back in 2007 SA was officialy retired for good.

You can read a bit more on GPS at,

http://www.csr.utexas.edu/texas_pwv/midterm/...

or

http://www.gps.gov/support/faq/#accurate

Captain ObviousMay 16, 2011 9:56 AM

@S As for battery life, these are non-rechargeable batteries, and have a much higher energy density than what we are accustomed to dealing with. Not just 4 d-cells, these things can run for 10-20 years.

Other power options include tapping in to vehicle power to run indefinitely. Bonus for tapping the antenna as well.

I just want to see these things slapped on Airport supply vehicles, or used to monitor LEO movements for a No-Speed-Trap App.

PaeniteoMay 16, 2011 10:05 AM

@S: "if you find one of these under your back bumper, how do you know it's the only one"

You don't. Consider the car compromised.
Get a new one and guard it better.

It's quite the same as with computer malware, if you ask me...

gopiMay 16, 2011 10:08 AM

So, you see one, you think it might be a pipe bomb, then what? Call the police, and...controlled explosion of your car? Better check your insurance policy very carefully. It may not cover damage caused by police action.

jacobMay 16, 2011 10:24 AM

@gopi. good point. Generally, that's why it's not a good idea to get into a pissing contest with feds. Just ask Martha Stuart. What would you do? I wouldn't want to be tracked out of principal. (nothing really to hide, not even from my wife). Probably put it in my garage and wait for them to ask for it back? But what if it really is a bomb? Jeez, interesting question?

SMay 16, 2011 10:32 AM

@ Captain Obvious "As for battery life, these are non-rechargeable batteries, and have a much higher energy density than what we are accustomed to dealing with. Not just 4 d-cells, these things can run for 10-20 years."

Yup, that much was clear from the linked article. But wiring into vehicle power would surely still be the preferred option these days - especially with the amount of mysterious black plastic boxes with wires protruding that you'll find under the bonnet of anything made in the last ten or fifteen years, and the fact that the sheer size/bulk of the battery pack makes detection a lot easier. If you go in on the CAN buss you can probably also tie into the car's GPS antenna, if it's got one.

Clive is probably on the money re. these mainly being used on lower value/importance targets: even if they've got a bunch of new James Bond type shit that can also read your thoughts as you're driving along and transmit those back, they'll still have a lot of money invested in old inventory, and I imagine there's not much of a second hand market for it!

And then there's the decoy theory - don't underestimate the value of someone you're tailing _knowing you're tailing them_, got to be pretty useful psyops, pace Imperfect Citizen who frequents these pages.

SMay 16, 2011 10:36 AM

[an addendum to the last section of my previous post, if it's not obvious, is that of course you'd have the newer/smaller/more hi tech tracker to actually track them, once they'd found and removed the bigger one]

David ThornleyMay 16, 2011 11:01 AM

So, is it legal for law enforcement to tap into my car electricity, potentially damaging the vehicle, putting an additional drain on the battery if it's parked a long time and using more gasoline (probably negligible), and possibly violating some aspect of the warranty, without a warrant?

ericaMay 16, 2011 11:12 AM

The ruling does not seem to address the issue of the use by the FBI of a private person's electrical power.

If the device is wired into the vehicle's power, then there are a couple of implications.

One is that the vehicle owner is now an unwitting supplier of utility energy to the federal government. They may require security clearance to do so; and the FBI may be delinquent in not having given them such clearance beforehand.

The vehicle's type approval, emissions' requirements (etc) may be altered by the elecrical wiring and additional power drain. If the FBI have caused a non-compliant vehicle to be on public roads, then liability may take a few court cases to resolve.

And then, there's any billing made by the owner for the power supplied to the device. I'd advise the FBI to always look for a User Agreement on the vehicle before fitting such a device. An owner can easily craft such an agreement and leave it in plain sight.

RichardMay 16, 2011 11:18 AM

So... I suppose this ruling doesn't allow us to place GPS tracking devices on the vehicles of our local constabulary, because I have lots of great business ideas for building off of that. ;-)

Tony H.May 16, 2011 11:33 AM

Not surprising that this thing seems to be old technology; if I'm reading the article right, it was discovered by its target in 2005, but only recently subjected to the teardown. So if she was already a low value target in 2005, they presumably used the old klunker they had lying around, which makes it maybe late 1990s technology. I didn't see any comment on the actual state of those D-cells, but presumably no one turned the device off, so it will have been consuming battery power for at least the last six years unless it was put into low power mode remotely.

Which brings up the interesting notion of remote control/destruction of such devices, so that at least the details of where it's sending its info could be removed. Or of course there could be a deadman switch, so if it doesn't hear from home for a week or something it clears all memory and dies. It could also detect if it is no longer attached to the vehicle - doesn't matter if it falls off or is discovered and removed. All the usual tamper detection tricks such as light detection when the box is opened, etc. etc.

Captain ObviousMay 16, 2011 11:50 AM

@Paeniteo

"Get a new one and guard it better."

The only problem with this strategy is that all new ones likely come pre-equipped.

I spend enough time under my Electric '74 VW Bug that it's unlkely someone can hide something without me noticing.

John CampbellMay 16, 2011 11:57 AM

Actually, given the amount of energy in the batteries... could the batteries, if shorted "peroperly" have started a car fire?

(Yeah, the self-destruct in the device takes the car out, too, like the exploding batteries in some laptops...)

AB CD GoldfishMay 16, 2011 12:06 PM

This technology has been available to the hobbiest for years. See here: http://www.aprs.org/
and is currently required for ships of a certain size (larger than fishing) on the ocean here: http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=AISworks

Given the short range it will require either a repeater or a reasonably close "tail"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...
So, head for the hills, and attempt to ditch your "tail". When you're sure return to town, reinsert batteries and attach to garbage truck or mail to your district attorney. Maybe feed it fake GPS data?

EHMay 16, 2011 12:26 PM

Further to regular_guy and Richard, does behavior by law enforcement that doesn't require a warrant equate to "everybody's allowed to do it?" There's a piece of me wondering whether these are just complicated (if not problematic) ways of legalizing curiosity.

tedMay 16, 2011 12:38 PM

Is there an iphone or android app to detect these devices? Something like the wifi detectors.

ZaphodMay 16, 2011 12:40 PM

@clive

"Back in the late 1990's I was designing much higher tech devices" and numerous blog entries passum.

When I grow up, I wanna be Clive!

Re. GPS - back in the day GPS receivers had a velocity / altitude block to prevent their use in missiles etc.

Z.

regular_guyMay 16, 2011 1:00 PM

@EH,

Laws apply to cops just like anyone else. The only reason its legal for cops to do certain things like make arrests is because those powers are written into the governing body's laws. Unless the law states the act doesn't apply to law enforcement personnel acting in an official capacity, they can and should get charged with a crime just as I would. I don't see why the same doesn't apply in this situation. If they are saying they can bug my car sitting in my driveway, then they are saying I can bug their car in a similar setting. Unless their is a law saying I can't bug a cop car, then what could they do if they did find it and catch me other than give me a hard time? If they did give me a hard time about it, wouldn't that be harassment.

These devices could be detrimental. If I find the device and go to work and put the tracker on my boss's car, they would be wasting their time spying on my boss instead of me.

Dirk PraetMay 16, 2011 1:33 PM

From the 1979 Dead Kennedys song "California über alles":

"Close your eyes, can't happen here
Big Bro' on white horse is near"

Jello Biafra was a visionary. No further comments. Clive has already dealt with the technical aspects.

scottnottheotherscottMay 16, 2011 2:16 PM

@Zaphod

If you wait 'til you grow up, I suspect you'll never be Clive!

By my calculations, you need to have started mucking with electronics in the 1880s to be Clive. Get cracking :-P

schmoeMay 16, 2011 2:50 PM

Several have suggested that if cops can bug a citizens car without a warrant, than a citizen should be able to bug a cop's car. Lets generalize the question - can any citizen bug another citizen's car? Can somebody bug their neighbors car?

pfoggMay 16, 2011 3:10 PM

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is, if I recall correctly, has more of its decisions overturned than any other appellate court. Given this is coming from the 9th, I wouldn't count on the matter being resolved.

Alpha OmegaMay 16, 2011 3:39 PM

I find the discussions here interesting, but somewhat archaic. Modern technologies and 18th notions of rights and liberties don't seem particularly compatible to me. I would argue that some kind of techno-fascism is all but inevitable (or collapse of civilization, take your pick). We're on a road toward posthumanity now, the Machine has its own agenda, and it's not clear that there's any place for quaint notions like "privacy" and "individual freedom" on this path.

subbuMay 16, 2011 3:57 PM

Wow-Land of freedom and opportunity.
After the economic debacle only one was left - that too is being eroded.

Clive RobinsonMay 16, 2011 4:16 PM

@ schmoe,

"Several have suggested that if cops can bug a citizens car without a warrant, than a citizen should be able to bug a cop's car. Lets generalize the question..."

In the UK we kind of did that and the result was a very very dark day.

Known as the "Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act" or RIPA, it supposadly puts limits on what various authorities could do...

The result is many looked at it as an "enabler" with some town councils using it to put "cold war" style surveillance on people for no better reason than they could...

Dr. TMay 16, 2011 4:47 PM

I agree with Kevin and others about calling the bomb squad if I found a strange device attached to my car, especially if it's connected to the car's wiring.

In my view, if someone attaches something to my car (such as an advertising flyer under my windshield wiper), then I now own the item and can do whatever I want with it: remove it, destroy it, toss it in the trash, etc. However, with the courts shredding the Constitution every day, it is possible that there is a law against destroying or disposing of a law enforcement monitoring device. Does anyone know the law on this topic?

not meMay 16, 2011 4:53 PM

I wonder what happens if you try to enter the kind of facility that checks under cars with mirrors with one of these attached (without your knowledge). "That's not mine, I didn't know that was there" isn't known to convince security forces. Will they look close enough to discover it's not a bomb?

mcbMay 16, 2011 4:58 PM

@ Alpha Omega

"We're on a road toward posthumanity now, the Machine has its own agenda, and it's not clear that there's any place for quaint notions like "privacy" and "individual freedom" on this path."

If we achieve the Singularity we won't need drugs, and if we end up in an Post-World as we Know it Apocalypse everyone will be doing drugs, so can't we just pull the plug on the DEA right now?

SparkyGSXMay 16, 2011 5:25 PM

I wonder why nobody seems to have noticed, but considering the (appearant) lack of any microcontroller or similar, we might conclude that this device is probably transmitting a continuous stream of unencrypted NMEA GPS data on a license-free (at low power) frequency.

It should be very simple to intercept, scamble, or falsify this data.

Of course, falsified data will be very easy to spot, if the transmitted position is outside the range of the receiver.

Richard Steven HackMay 16, 2011 8:01 PM

"We're on a road toward posthumanity now, the Machine has its own agenda, and it's not clear that there's any place for quaint notions like "privacy" and "individual freedom" on this path."

Trust me, radical Transhumans are not going to be surveilled against their will. In fact, once one or more real Transhumans exist, the FBI is finished. They can run, but they can't hide.

Of course, that also applies to the rest of the human species. :-)

So, in the immortal words of Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles: You watch your ass!

stacomMay 16, 2011 8:37 PM

@ BF Skinner:
"I'm thinking of Imperfect Citizen's case where them what are monitoring her movements seem indifferent to keeping the monitoring clandestine."

*facepalm* IC is schizophrenic

JasonMay 16, 2011 8:57 PM

I've done a little research into "bug" detectors and such...The gov't and/or military must have some sort of "bug" detecting technology for all the vehicles it has...Anyone know how to make or where to buy some "bug" detecting technologies?

asdMay 16, 2011 9:18 PM

eyespyshop seems to have that stuff last time I checked(about 4 years ago). A UK shop..

JayMay 16, 2011 9:20 PM

@SparkyGSX: Read the teardown again, the GPS chip has 1MB of flash and 128kB of SRAM. Sounds like a micro to me.

@Jason: Countermeasure, countercountermeasure. How would you detect a bug that only uploaded its logs on, say, 3AM on a Wednesday morning? Or that was built into a device that's supposed to transmit anyway (e.g. a phone - and do tower logs count?)

If you still want to build a bug detector, you really just need an RF power meter (or three or four - for 10kHz to 5GHz) and perhaps a well-shielded Faraday cage to keep the interference down (assuming the bug/phone/device doesn't need a keepalive signal...)

murrayMay 16, 2011 9:31 PM

@ stacom
"*facepalm* IC is schizophrenic"

Do you mean like that Mike guy who was always being persecuted by MI5?

tommy May 17, 2011 1:16 AM

Forget planting the bug. The minute the feebies enter my private property, without a warrant, without my permission, and without a valid reason (e. g., probable cause to believe I've committed a crime, in which case, they could get a warrant anyway), they're *trespassing* -- as is anyone else.

If I had a 16-year-old son, and suspected my car was bugged, imagine the fun if I give Junior the keys and tell him "Take off and have fun. Go wherever you like" -- while I use his, or borrow a friend's, or buy a scooter....

Come to think of it, what if you *did* ride a motorcycle? Can all you RF-techs say whether the much-higher level of elec-noise (engine so close, unshielded from the rest of the vehicle, etc.) would mess up such devices? And the vibration level? They would certainly be harder to plant surreptitiously, and easier to find, especially for the less ornate cycles. So maybe bike=freedom in more ways than one. (Not to mention that the faster ones can outrun any car on the road, and lose a tail more easily - narrow passages and such.)

Dirk PraetMay 17, 2011 2:26 AM

@ Tommy

"The minute the feebies enter my private property, without a warrant, without my permission, and without a valid reason (e. g., probable cause to believe I've committed a crime, in which case, they could get a warrant anyway), they're *trespassing* -- as is anyone else. "

Not according to the US Supreme Court in a recent and surprising 8-1 vote: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/... . Welcome to your brave new police state.

ngoMay 17, 2011 3:45 AM

This is a matter of privacy breach. The possible solution to this problem is, take your vehicle to the nearest terrorist-hit area like any mnc hotel in pakistan, before parking they might do the needful for you. (If they suspected it as a pipe bomb..probably you wont bribe them;-)

AdamMay 17, 2011 4:07 AM

If I saw one of these on my car I think I would simply drive around for it a bit. Park the car, walk half a mile to the nearest body of water and throw the thing in. If questioned about where the device has gone feign ignorance. If the feds attach another device, rinse and repeat.

asdMay 17, 2011 4:13 AM

Off-Topic sorry
"*facepalm* IC is schizophrenic", Contrary to information some mental disorders are simple using memory locations as INPUT, instead of eye/nose/hears. It doesn't mean your multi personalty as such.
If you want try saying something remember it and pretend someone(anyone) said it to you, and think of a reply(doesn't help if it isn't out loud :)

As the world thinks more abstractly using memory locations as input will increase(hence mental disorder are rising).

Imperfect CitizenMay 17, 2011 5:22 AM

I wish I were mentally ill, that could be dealt with. Patriot Act Abuse has no treatment course.

BF SkinnerMay 17, 2011 6:58 AM

@ stacom "IC is schizophrenic"

Unproven and unprovable 'Doctor'.

What is certain is that surveilence of US citizens by different members at different levels of it's government has increased.

This includes local and state police intruding on protected areas of political speech, fishing expeditions at library's and ISPs (as well as mass wiretapping computer communications) and virtual public strip searches every time someone wants to board a plane. This is the visible stuff.

The average age of FBI special agents has dropped. And their behavior is very much accountable by reference to 'inexperience'. At the same time there's was a hugh outsourcing going for USG because of ideologes who believe that government is unnecessary, unworkable, expensive.

Is her allegation that agency COTRs and their contractors are in a stupid loop of observation beyond reason? When agency's are fighting for resources (who says there's no competition in Federal Gov't?) and contractors pad their work for billiable hours. I think not at all beyond reason and entirely predictable.

right after 9/11 I listened for and heard the call to "unleash the intelligence agencies". The reason they were on that leash was their constant, wide-spread, intentional abuse of their power.

We've seen tainted evidence attempted to be used for warrants and introduced in court to gain convictions in FISA and criminal courts even though the AG 'promised' it wouldn't happen. Oh and torture of people performed and excused with exigency.

We've seen the extraordinary powers granted 'to fight terrorism' being used to in ordinary drug cases and to assist the RIAA in their thuggery.

Predictable. Because once you ammend the law for existential threats it becomes the law for everyone. "We do it for terrorists why not the teenagers selling nickle bags at concerts."

BF SkinnerMay 17, 2011 7:10 AM

@Dirk

Kentucky vs. King is going to be used like a consent warrant.

We thought the individual might be trying to destroy evidence because. . .
. . . we didn't hear anything.
. . . we heard something.
. . . we were at the wrong house.

Even with the current Court I was really surprised only Ginsberg ruled against it.

RandobarMay 17, 2011 7:41 AM

Next logical step will be to force one of those build into every car imported or build into the US. Since it is legal to add one later, why not attach one by default? It will save money and time for the police.

RedditMay 17, 2011 8:56 AM

@S: See this post on Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/reddit.com/comments/...

there was a similar story in germany where the BKA (kinda like the FBI) planted some tracking device on a left wing activists car. he removed the thing and his lawyer asked the police, the bka and everybody who might do something like this if it was their device. everybody denied it.

then they tried to sell the device, and suddenly the BKA accused them of theft. a court decided that they may sell the device since the BKA denied that it belongs to them ;)

hum hoMay 17, 2011 9:47 AM

hmmm...

I can see this could become a start of a new service for oil change joints...

"Get your FBI tracking device removed while you are waiting."

By the way (as shown at ifixit.com) it is easier to open the tracking device than it is to open an iPhone. FBI should learn something from Apple, haha.

selfMay 17, 2011 9:49 AM

@subbu:
Wow-Land of freedom and opportunity.
After the economic debacle only one was left - that too is being eroded.
--

yes? But freedom and opportunity can both be seen in this case. The freedom and opportunity for FBI to track people, that is.

PaeniteoMay 17, 2011 9:59 AM

@Reddit: "then they tried to sell the device, and suddenly the BKA accused them of theft."

They should have brought it to the lost&found office. ;-)
If nobody collects the item for six months, it is lawfully yours. If somebody collects it, you're entitled for a compensation of 10% of the item's worth.

zorgMay 17, 2011 10:02 AM

I think this is just a false flag operation to get peoples attention away from the tracking that Apple and Google already do for the government.

Or perhaps they use these devices on people who hate Android and iPhone.

dbCooperMay 17, 2011 10:42 AM

Perhaps the OnStar tech possessed by General Motors played some role in the Feds bailing them out. Seems to be a win-win for both of those parties.

OWMay 17, 2011 10:43 AM

@S "...especially with the amount of mysterious black plastic boxes with wires protruding that you'll find under the bonnet..."

I wonder if those devices come pre-soiled, with a fine coating of oil/dust/water splashes so they blend in with the rest of the under-hood devices, of if they are shiny-new and stand out like a sore thumb?

John DoeMay 17, 2011 1:39 PM

Personally, if I'm an activist and the FBI wants to bug my car with GPS, I'm going to take that as a compliment. I must be getting someone's attention.

If I find it, I'm going to mess with it first; take it apart and see how it works. Then I'm gonna put it all back together and destroy it in a very public manner. Like call a press conference to prove unlawful government surveillance of law-abiding citizens, then pull the thing off the bottom of the car with cameras rolling.

As far as the 9th Circuit ruling, this is eventually going to the Supreme Court because the D.C. Circuit unanimously ruled in U.S. v. Maynard that the police DO need a warrant to do extended GPS surveillance. The Maynard Court easily distinguished the 7th, 8th and 9th Circuit decisions upholding warrantless GPS surveillance by pointing out that in one form or another, the defendants in those cases hadn't argued against it. The Maynard Court also based its decision on Supreme Court precedent which expressed a particular distrust of continuous surveillance. It was only a scary hypothetical at the time, but the Supreme Court was apparently prescient enough to know that it might eventually be presented with it in real life and left it an open question.

From a civil liberties standpoint, the Maynard case has a touch of ironic justice: The court turned the government's mass surveillance/national security arguments against it to hold that surveilling all of a person's movements for a month is different than surveilling a single trip. "As with the 'mosaic theory' often invoked by the Government in cases involving national security information, 'What may seem trivial to the uninformed, may appear of great moment to one who has a broad view of the scene.'" Be careful what you say I guess, you never know when some judge will use it against you to do what he's supposed to do.

The Solicitor General asked the Supreme Court to review the Maynard decision, and a Circuit split is one of the strongest factors in getting the Supreme Court to review; so this might actually get reviewed. Time will tell.

The Maynard decision is available at http://www.jdsupra.com/post/documentViewer.aspx?...

Anyway, I know the FBI has a pretty sordid history, but if they're bugging your car, you've got bigger problems.

need-to-knowMay 17, 2011 1:50 PM

QUESTION, QUESTION...

Does anyone know what is the see-through'ish small knob that can be found on the dashboard (under the windshield) on newer cars??

Is it used for some kind of tracking?

And is this tracking device something FBI uses on cars that do not have that?

WMay 17, 2011 2:06 PM

@need-to-know


Maybe it's something to detect sunlight, so as to modify the action of the car's headlights, or turn them on automatically when there is no sun.

Or...something to modify the action of the "climate control" (HVAC) system on the car.

I can't say as I've seen one of these, so I'm just throwing out wild guesses.

Clive RobinsonMay 17, 2011 3:08 PM

@ S,

Sorry I missed your enquiry,

"... although I'm sure Clive has a few EMSEC tricks up his sleeve -- either that, or he drives a hand cranked Model T or something"

There are EMSEC tricks that will find a bug even if it is turned off.

Without going into lots and lots of details all transducers work both ways. The antenna is a transducer that will show up as it absorbs energy, likewise so will all the tuned circuits. Overly simplisiticaly they act like those anti theft devices that you find on store entrances.

Likewise unshielded electronics based on semiconductors have the equivalent of diodes which act as broad band frequency multipliers so will produce harmonics of a modestly powered signal sent their way (so called nonlinear junction detectors).

When a bug is powered up it draws energy there are various ways this can be detected including blowing CO2 all over the place and then looking with a thermal camera.

Anything that has a timer or CPU in it has some kind of clock source driving it this will radiate on frequency and at odd harmonics.

The problem is not so much finding these signitures but finding the ones that are not something else.

Much though I might like a hand cranked Model-T I would not want to drive it (as anyone who has will quite happily tell you they are death traps).

The solution is go out and buy yourself a carbon fiber framed racing/cross country push bike and a pocket metal detector.

It is not commonly said but following people on push bikes is a real nightmare for surveillance crews because of what the cyclist can do in hoping on and off going up alleys across fields etc.

You cann't follow them on foot or by car, and unlike car drivers they can hear helicopters.

It is one of the reasons these micro platform eye in the sky UAV's are of interest not just to the military but LEO's as well.

And as others have said if you have got the Flubbers that interested in you then it's an almost foregone conclusion you are going to be spending time in a place you realy do not want to be (if you are a normal citizan).

JonadabMay 17, 2011 7:06 PM

> what if you find it and rip it to shreds?

IANAL, but to the best of my understanding the device would be legally considered as abandoned either on your property or in a public place (depending on exactly how they place it), so de facto it effectively belongs to you. (This abandonment principle works both directions: anything you put out with the trash, for example, is fair game for anyone to take.)

> So, if your car is parked in a closed garage

That would be part of your house, so they would need a warrant.

Note, too, that getting *inside* your car would generally require a warrant (whether it's locked or not, I think, but IANAL&TINLA). That as I understand it is the main reason this kind of thing is usually designed to be attached to the exterior (possibly on the underside, where it's less conspicuous). In practical terms it would be much easier and more effective to conceal something inside the car, but they'd need a warrant for that.

> If that thing is hung underneath the
> chasis won't the GPS signal get blocked?

Partially, yes, and the precision will be reduced as a result. How much will depend on stuff like what model of car it is, exactly where they stick it on the chasis, and of course how much other stuff there is getting between the thing and the satellites (like, say, buildings). I would assume they took these things into account when designing the device and figuring out where to place it, but yeah, they might only be able to determine *approximately* where the vehicle is.

> My phone's GPS can't
> acquire in a parking garage

Well, the GPS in your phone was designed to be inexpensive (so it can be bundled in the phone and added to the bullet-point feature list without raising the unit price significantly), and it's probably got less antenna too due to the ridiculously tiny size of today's phones.

Also, a parking garage is a particularly egregious type of building for blocking signal. I don't imagine their device will work inside a parking garage either, but it probably doesn't need to: if they know the car was on that block when the signal went dead, that's going to be close enough for many purposes.

But yes, signal blockage is a real consideration that they would have to consider when designing the thing.

> if it is sending out occasional beacon
> broadcasts or if it has to be interrogated.

I wondered about that too. There are advantages and disadvantages to either approach.

> Can we assume therefore that
> whatever they're using nowadays
> is much, much more difficult to detect

I would assume they have a range of different devices, some older and some newer, some much harder to detect than others. The older and worse devices presumably tend to get allocated to lower-priority operations, all else being equal.

> So the antenna needs to be mounted
> clear of not just the body work but other
> electrical items that might produce a
> "jamming" signal of some kind.

In practice, I don't think anything on most modern cars would produce a jamming with any significant radius. The blocking effect of the solid bits (particularly the metal) is the larger concern, I think.

> Consider the car compromised.
> Get a new one and guard it better.

More than that, if somebody has placed a device on your car, it's a sure sign you've been made. Replacing the car won't undo that. If you can't just live under surveillance, you've got to walk away from everything: house, job, bank accounts, name, social security number, the works, it's all compromised.

Personally I'd just live under surveillance, but that might have something to do with the fact that I'm neither a spy nor a terrorist. YMMV.

JonadabMay 17, 2011 7:25 PM

> house, job, bank accounts, name, SSN,
> the works, it's all compromised.

Come to think of it, any projects you were working on are also compromised, as well as anyone who was working with you, plus your friends and family. Any further contact you ever have with any of them will give you away again and burn whatever new identity you may be using at the time.

So really if you find a surveillance device on your car, the logical course of action is to permanently retire from anything that would make it worth anyone's time to watch you. I know in the movies the spies always just get rid of the tracking device and go on as if nothing happened, but that wouldn't actually work. Once they've identified you as a threat, they can find plenty more ways to watch you. It's pretty much game over.

mechanicMay 17, 2011 8:51 PM

just wait for obd III when all cars will be manufactured with this preinstalled that is the real threat

Davi OttenheimerMay 17, 2011 8:55 PM

Ooooh, they had me at lithium-thionyl chloride.

Those batteries are class 9 hazardous materials. They can even explode if you short them.

http://www.atbatt.com/product/6710.asp

I'd feel lucky if they'd install that cool-looking black bar on my bicycle...

Come to think of it, this should be the litmus for a new status symbol in America. You are nobody if you aren't being tracked.

Instead of "Pimp my ride" the hot show now should be "Surveil my ride" with an emphasis on secret compartments, hidden electronics and undercarriage views.

"I'm so cool I have the ISI, FBI, CIA, MI5, MI6 on my tail...just look under this wheel well right here..."

rippedtornMay 18, 2011 6:00 AM

Why would GM, or any other big car manufacturer, agree to load their cars with tracking devices *for the feds*? Strike that: why would the feds want that?

So let's say the feds 'get the auto makers to all do it' ( most paranoid scenario ): Now 'the feds' have to figure out who, out of thousands of new cars, are black hat buyers? Or, maybe they've already read your thoughts...they know you're THINKING about buying a new car. Yeah. That's it. So *that* tech is used to place the tracking tech...no, wait..um...OK, the tech to brainwash auto companies is the same tech that reads your thoughts about thinking about a new car and so then they just have to figure out, fairly quickly, which one you bought...geolocate....ok...

But wait...what's the point of a tracking device if we...erm...I mean, 'the feds' can just scan your brain for future-thoughts of future cars? Bam. You're nailed.

So you find a tracker on your car. For one, why assume it's some government guy? Maybe it's a private snitch? What if it 's one of your techie friends playing a joke on you? From your perspective, that's all possible, isn't it?

Trash it. Or, better, toss it over the wall into the yard of the local fed boss' house. Then the field agents can wonder why you're hanging around their bosses house.

Am making light of a more serious issue but...at the end of the day, follow the money. If someone's coming up with cool tech and their tech is funded by people who are affiliated with or working for or *are* tracking types...well, at least you know who's who.

And it's your duty as the good guy/gal to put trackers on their cars :) Just don't get imaged doing that, k?

PS I think it's long since been impossible to NOT live under surveillance. HOW are you going to 'just' abandon your life if you're over 21? Now, simplify that process if you can LOL

averrosMay 18, 2011 6:39 AM

@Imperfect Citizen: Patriot Act Abuse has no treatment course.

I've heard that tar and feathers, liberally applied to lawmakers, are a great remedy.

averrosMay 18, 2011 6:44 AM

@Jonadab: Once they've identified you as a threat, they can find plenty more ways to watch you. It's pretty much game over.

Au contraire. The main secret of all those secret agencies is how mind-boggingly incompetent they are. They are the government, after all.

SMay 18, 2011 9:56 AM

@ Clive:

Thanks for the explanation; exciting an antenna by bombarding it with RF in the range it's designed for seems obvious, now you point it out.

I've never driven anything quite as old as a Model T but certainly wouldn't want to risk one on the road. My car ['73 Bimmer] is electronically and mechanically simple enough that you'd have a hard time concealing any tracking technology in it without me noticing though. Particularly since it spends a rather high proportion of its time in bits on my drive!

überrationellMay 18, 2011 4:28 PM

Since these systems all inevitably work on GPS, why not just use a GPS jammer from ebay or build one yourself? Not very legal but certainly very effective.

YouGuysCrackMeUpMay 18, 2011 10:46 PM

Any of you morons consider that the same information retrieved from a GPS tracker could likewise be gained from a few agents simply following your inconsequential a** around town? There ain’t a damn thing in the constitution that prevents that.

SMay 19, 2011 3:47 AM

@ YouGuysCrackMeUp:

Way to totally miss the point.

Yes, they can put agents on you. They've always been able to do that. But the effort/cost/manpower involved is a long way from being insignificant. Takes more than 'a few' agents to maintain true discreet surveillance without losing you. Thus (or so we hope), budgetary and operational constraints would limit their ability to follow anyone but the most high value targets; the sort of people who even the tinfoil-hatters round here wouldn't object to them being after.

The danger is that, with the type of technology under discussion here, their cost/benefit analysis is skewed. If all it takes is the few hundred bucks or whatever a gizmo like this costs, plus half an hour of an agent's time to crawl under your car and attach it, then sticking one on the car of everyone you're even slightly interested in, and paying one G-man to sit in an office eating donuts and tracking fifty suspects at a time, starts to seem very much more attractive.

And THAT'S what's scaring the likes of us.

Clive RobinsonMay 19, 2011 6:16 AM

@ YouGuysCrackMeUp,

I realy do not think you understand what technology is giving the three letter agencies.

First off, what ever the manner of gathering it the primary object of the NSA / CIA / FBI / et al is data.

They don't care how they get it or if it appears to be of any real use as J. Edgar Hover knew and proved relentlessly "knowledge is power".

Knowledge comes from applying the correct meta-data to data. You might not yet know the correct meta-data but the minute you do, you have knowledge that can be used to your advantage.

As @S has pointed out the constraint is resources or more simply "how many bits your buck gets you".

We are at the begining of an age where "data mining" will become the primary crime investigation tool. Where simply showing you were at a place at a given time will be enough to make you a suspect, no matter how old the crime.

For this you don't need human investigvators you just need the data the computing power and the correct meta-data. Such systems are fully automated, and if you have read this blog for some time you will know that they exist.

Currently the likes of the NSA are making their "anonymised" data available to many small data analysis companies to see what they can find, and the fact they have been doing this for some time and some quite considerable expense suggests that they thing this use of their resources is benificial over other methods.

tommyMay 19, 2011 8:04 PM

@ Dirk Praet:

Thanks for the link. I was trying to contrast how things "should" be -- what is prescribed in the Constitution, Federal and State law, etc. -- with how they actually are.

Yes, the US Gov more and more acts in ways that are unconstitutional, illegal, and immoral, and only a few people, like the readers here, seem to care -- or even to notice. Your link supports that thesis even more. Thanks.

I still wish someone with the technical expertise would reply to the question on whether such devices would be practical -- from LE's POV -- on a motorcycle.

asdMay 20, 2011 12:33 AM

@Tommy ,"devices would be practical -- from LE's POV -- on a motorcycle. "
The actual GPS device can be small(etc 400mhz tran/recv 1mm,mixim supplier if you want to build one), and the antenna wired to a metal frame or bar. If the frame is 1/4,4/1(something like that) of the frequency it will still be a goodish Ariel. The bike battery maybe shorted to the frame with a resister to stop complete drain of the battery, and to power the GPS
Probable holes...

tommyMay 20, 2011 10:33 PM

@ asd:

Thanks. So, the interference from the bike's unshielded electronic ignition system, spark plugs 20kvolts, etc., is not a problem?

"The bike battery maybe shorted to the frame with a resister to stop complete drain of the battery..."

My last bike was a while ago, but between small size and the vibration and weather, they didn't have a lot of spare capacity. If this bugging device runs continually, Biker is going to be surprised when the bike he cranked up last weekend won't crank this weekend. Do you shut off the GPS as battery power declines?

Also, where to hide? Under fender? The purpose of fenders is to keep the mud etc. off the driver and passenger, so this device would need to be very well secured, which might be suspicious. Clever to use the frame as an antenna, but in a bike without fairings and such, might be hard to hide that wire. Or device.

I found it prudent to check the water/acid level in the battery much more frequently than in a car, so any new connections are going to be discovered pretty quickly. You've answered about tx/rx capability; any thoughts on secure hiding of both the device and all connections - again, on a plain, "wide-open" bike?

asdMay 21, 2011 1:38 AM

@tommy, based on unlimited time. Maybe a fuel-cell(weighted to half tank fill hight) in the petrol tank(drill a hole in the lid to let a little bit of air in,and maybe some platinum(petrol to CO2),with iron(water/CO2 to oil(wood gas))) type setup. connect that to the petrol tank thin springy wires stick out in a star shape from the fuel-cell with only the negative terminal, and on the GPS a diode/resister back to the frame for grounds voltage drop.
????

tommyMay 21, 2011 11:54 PM

@ asd: Certainly does seem more of a challenge than planting on a car. Thanks for your time and effort in replying.

MarkMay 22, 2011 1:54 PM

@S
"Yup, that much was clear from the linked article. But wiring into vehicle power would surely still be the preferred option these days - especially with the amount of mysterious black plastic boxes with wires protruding that you'll find under the bonnet of anything made in the last ten or fifteen years, and the fact that the sheer size/bulk of the battery pack makes detection a lot easier. If you go in on the CAN buss you can probably also tie into the car's GPS antenna, if it's got one."

As well as not putting something under the car which could be mistaken for a (highly lethal) bomb. The volume of the battery compartment being at least 226ml with a stick of dynamite being 161ml.

MarkMay 22, 2011 2:06 PM

@ BF Skinner

right after 9/11 I listened for and heard the call to "unleash the intelligence agencies". The reason they were on that leash was their constant, wide-spread, intentional abuse of their power.

If anything "unleashing" them will make them even less effective. Since left to their own devices they are likely to go for what is easiest and safest for their people. Tracking down gangsters and terrorists is both hard and dangerous.

Clive RobinsonMay 26, 2011 4:56 AM

@ Bruce,

This sort of "under car" bugging device may rapidly become a thing of the past due to an improvment in VB-IED (Vehicle Borne IED) detection that automaticaly scans under a car.

The scanner uses a CCTV camera to identify the make and model of the car (as well as registration plate details) and as the car passess over an in the road scanner, it compares the under car image to a known good scan for that make and model.

If the scan detects an anomaly the car gets flagged for further inspection by humans.

The AUVIS system is from "Gatekeeper Security" ( http://www.gatekeepersecurity.com/products/... ).

Although I've nothing to do with the company, I can see that the technology could easily be extended to do under the hood and in the boot scanning as well which would further limit the use of in/on vehicle devices such as bombs and bugs or for that matter modifications aimed at smuggling etc.

BF SkinnerJune 28, 2011 10:27 AM

UPDATE: U.S. Supreme Court to review US v Antoine Jones. A warrantless GPS tracking case that ended with Jones convicted for life. US District Court of DC threw out the evidence and DoJ appealed 'cause people have no expectation of privacy in public'

Case will be heard next term in October.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/06/28/...

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