Pubdate: Tue, 11 Mar 2003
Source: Des Moines Register (IA)
Copyright: 2003 The Des Moines Register.
Author: Mike Sawyer


The war on drugs has long been a test market on the price of liberty. The 
government is buying and it's going cheap.

The March 2 Register story, "Police Use Satellite System to Track 
Suspects," brings to light that authorities have been covertly placing 
Global Positioning Systems on suspects" vehicles to track their movements 
since at least 1999. Apparently, this practice has not been limited to drug 

I can understand how the framers of the Constitution overlooked this 
specific possibility, but I am hard-pressed to understand how today's 
courts can find such intrusions do not fall under the protection and the 
spirit of the Fourth Amendment. Judge Douglas Staskal ruled that no search 
warrant is needed to install a GPS device, which of course means the 
authorities do not have to show probable cause, either.

The intrusion described by the Register extends not only to the targeted 
drug dealer, but also to the right to privacy of anyone he encounters, 
whether or not their business was legal in nature. And without probable 
cause, we cannot know how many times GPS has been, or will be, used to 
track innocent suspects and everyone they encounter over six months.

If you are not involved in criminal activity or don't know anyone who is, 
these intrusions shouldn't bother you. After all, it's not like they're 
going to spend the time and money to install a GPS on your car. Of course 
not, you will!

While you and I are out buying up every new electronic gadget that comes 
along, John Poindexter of the Total Information Awareness Project is 
figuring out ways to tap into these devices so he can keep track of every 
American. George Orwell never envisioned a world in which "Big Brother" 
could keep track of its citizens' every movement. It wasn't human nature he 
misjudged. It was technology.

It won't be long before most of us own a car with a GPS, and by then it 
will seem all too apparent that anyone without one must have something to 
hide. So the transition to mandatory GPS will come quite naturally and 

I know it would sound paranoid to speculate on how our government might 
come to use this new technology, so I won't. There are just too many 
possibilities. What I do know is that the risk of placing this kind of 
power in the hands of current or future administrations far outweigh the 
potential benefits.

We have seen the sneak preview and we have been given a window of 
opportunity. Governmental agencies at every level will be gauging our 
reaction to this market test. By our silence we can acquiesce to this, the 
future face of law enforcement. Or we can take the time to write Congress 
and tell it how we like the Beta Version.

Mike Sawyer,

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