back to article Are US border cops secretly secreting GPS trackers on vehicles without a warrant? EFF lawyers want to know

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has sued [PDF] the US Department of Homeland Security to find out more about a program where, it is claimed, officers secretly stick GPS trackers on vehicles they are suspicious of as they come through the border. The EFF has made repeated freedom of information act (FoIA) requests …

  1. stiine Silver badge

    i don't know why...

    If they suspect it (I do too) then what they need to do is find a car with a tracker installed, drive the car into a 40' shipping container, close the door, and wait until the feds show up. For more interesting results, they could put it on a truck and relocate it by 100 miles, then have the car follow the truck back to the location where it was loaded, and do it again...bonus points if they follow a different route back each time.

    Hell, if they really want to fuck with them, have the container containing the car loaded on a ship bound for Cape Town, South Africa, unload it, unbox it and just drive around in circles...

    Of course, the funniest thing to do would be to put glitter bombs under the floor mats and have the car driven to the closest foreign country (Canada or Mexico) and just let border control them give it a good inspection...extra points for uploading the ensuing profanity to YouTube...

    1. redpawn Silver badge

      Re: i don't know why...

      Better to attach it to a political functionary's vehicle or a wild animal

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: i don't know why...

        Or attach it to another ICE vehicle for full Keystone Cops style hilarity.

    2. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: i don't know why...

      "bomb ... border control"

      Oh, you're going to enjoy your next flight.

      1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        Re: i don't know why...


        As are you ;)

    3. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: i don't know why...

      I’d attach it to a helium balloon and let it roam free

  2. sbt Silver badge
    Big Brother

    I've seen this on TV, I'm sure

    Don't the bad guys just drive to the nearest truck stop over the border, and then relocate the tracker to another vehicle, which drives off somewhere else?

    1. Nick Kew
      Black Helicopters

      Re: I've seen this on TV, I'm sure

      I don't have a telly, but I'm sure I've read many times about surreptitious tracking devices[1]. Especially as a schoolboy back in the 1970s, when I had a taste for then-contemporary thrillers.

      [1] Not to mention covert listening devices, etc.

  3. Allan George Dyer

    Some questions...

    1. How do you recognise these trackers?

    2. Can they be re-configured to report to a different service provider?

    3. Is it a crime to resell equipment freely gifted to you by a Government employee?

    I need the answers for my new business proposal for a cross-border retailer of GPS tracking equipment.

    1. seven of five Silver badge

      Re: Some questions...

      3. is a bit of a grey area, they might (and probably will) argue the tracker was not a "gift" as such. otoh, this opens the oportunity to bill them transport fees. And maybe some surcharge for keeping it save. You know, Mr officer sir, would have been a shame if anything would have happened to it...

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Some questions...

        There was a case back in the 70s where the British Communist Party (note to Americans, as a monarchy without a constitution we allow political parties we disagree with) found a bug in their HQ and destroyed it.

        While the government didn't admit they had planted the bug, and at the time didn't admit that MI5 existed, they were found guilty of the intention to destroy government property.

        So if you believe that the government plants illegal GPS trackers and you destroy one you are guilty. However if you are a true patriot and believe that the US government would never violate the constitution then they can't be government property and presumably you are free to destroy them

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Some questions...

          And yet the British tell Americans that they don't understand irony or sarcasm...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Some questions...

          Now that sounds like an urban myth to me. Do you have a reliable source for that anecdote?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Some questions...

            Though it is possible it was an urban myth, a CP member and friend of my father's used to keep his telephone handset under a cushion, because they had been warned that handsets were bugged by putting a capacitor across the hook switch. A suitable RF signal then activated the microphone enough to pick up sound, but as it was weaker than the usual 100mA DC, a cushion was effective in stopping it.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Some questions...

              because they had been warned that handsets were bugged by putting a capacitor across the hook switch.

              The capacitor that fed the bell circuit by any chance? It's a good way of stoking people's paranoia by describing improbable things using components found inside a standard telephone, but the old carbon microphones relied on DC current flow to work, hence the 50mA loop current (and the fact that the call would drop if the mic was disconnected.

     - sound pressure on these microphones changed its resistance and therefore the current flow in a loop circuit - they simply _will not_ work with AC as it disrupts the way the carbon granules clump.

              You could _possibly_ pick up sound with the earpiece (I used to experiment with these things as a kid) but you'd need substantial amplification electronics in the phone and a power source to drive it. Something like that would be kind of obvious in 1970s-era 706 type phones - which at their heart used a circuit that hadn't changed substantially since the 1920s (later ones had PCBs but until the advent of drop-in electronic mics they were still essentially entirely passive devices - and the electronic mics simply emulated a carbon loop current mike)

              Bugging was normally done via other means (such as putting the bug in the junction box on the wall where the line voltage was perfectly sufficient to drive a low current RF transmitter without triggering loop detection at the exchange - or more prosaically just using a spare pair on the incoming cable and putting most of the rest of the electronics in the street cabinet - which meant no RF to detect. Post Office workers had to sign the Post Office Secrets Act so they couldn't talk about what they'd seen)

          2. Allan George Dyer
            Black Helicopters

            Re: Some questions...

            That MI5 was bugging the British Communist Party has been confirmed by the declassification of papers by the National Archive in 2016:



            That the British Communist Party found at lease one bug is confirmed by the bug's presence in "The Papers of the Communist Party of Great Britain", stored at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre in Manchester, see:


            where it is described as: "The People's History Museum holds the Communist Party picture collection and CPGB artefacts and ephemera including a bug planted by MI5 at the CPGB's headquarters."

            But it seems unlikely that the anecdote is true, because surely the bug (presumably damaged) would have been kept by the authorities as evidence. Or maybe that was a different bug? Can anyone locate the records of the (supposed) court case?

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Some questions...

          It's probably illegal to destroy them but was one to "fall off", be "accidentally" crushed by your or someone else's vehicle and have none of your fingerprints on it, good luck to them in proving it.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Some questions...

        "3. is a bit of a grey area, they might (and probably will) argue the tracker was not a "gift" as such. otoh,"

        It would be a "benefit in kind" and therefore subject to income tax. This means the IRS will get involved. You really don't want the IRS coming after you for unpaid tax.


        Mr A. Capone.

  4. button pusher
    Big Brother

    Hank Schrader would be proud...

    But in BB the GPS worked under steel barrels and apparently inside them too...

    1. sbt Silver badge

      Re: Hank Schrader would be proud...

      The one inside the gas cap on BCS was cooler.

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    The police situation in the USA is completely out of hand

    Regular police already ignore restrictions and sometimes even basic human rights, but border cops are even more crazy.

    And, since they have special powers, they simply think they are literally above the law.

    On top of that, government officials have long been ignorant of information requests when it inconveniences them, but with the orange baboon and his clique of chums who brazenly ignore pointed questions, a very bad example has been given.

    It's starting to look like a little revolution is needed.

    1. Tom Paine

      Re: The police situation in the USA is completely out of hand

      Luckily, they're all armed to the teeth precisely so they can resist "government tyranny", so we can expect the masses to rise up and overthrow the hated regime. Right, kids?


      1. stiine Silver badge

        Re: The police situation in the USA is completely out of hand

        That's the goddamn plan.

      2. fargonebastage

        Re: The police situation in the USA is completely out of hand

        Sorry we can't attend your revolution... Dancing with the Stars is on...

      3. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: The police situation in the USA is completely out of hand

        Unity of command. That's why the Shaolin never rebelled. That's why the Syrian rebellion failed.

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

          Re: The police situation in the USA is completely out of hand

          Well apart from one orphan of Chinese American descent who made a kebab out of the emperors nephew , last I heard he was looking for his half brother.

          Icon - Getting me coat, floppy hat, carry bags & wooden flute for a stroll across the desert.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: The police situation in the USA is completely out of hand

      "Regular police already ignore restrictions and sometimes even basic human rights, but border cops are even more crazy."

      The USA has declared that border areas are a "constitutiojn free zone"

      "Border areas" stretch 100 miles from borders.

      "Borders" include all land borders, inland ports. sea coasts - and international airports - in the USA (yes, seriously)

      The result is that there are about 25 square feet of the USA where the constitution actually applies.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sounds like the Home Office are running courses in the US

    and ICE are attending and taking detailed notes.

  7. Ochib

    Take a leaf out ot the NUM's play book

    During the miners strike, the ring leaders new that their phones were buged. So for fun and games they would ring each other and say that the picketts would be leaving from the "Dog and Bone at 7:30am in a white minibus" and then ring each other on unbugged payphones with the real time and place for the picketts to meet.

    If you think/know that you are being bugged, have some fun and games with the Po-Po.

  8. GnuTzu

    GPS for People

    If tagging vehicles with GPS devices were justified, then when are they going to start doing this for people... or their cell phones... oh wait... {insert-obvious-well-known-history-here}

  9. JohnFen

    How can I look "suspicious"?

    I want to get some free GPS trackers!

  10. Barrie Shepherd

    Can we get one of these trackers over to the Isle of Man and get BigClive to pull it apart and reverse engineer it please!

    I'd be really interested to know how they really work, what powers them, what back-haul they use and are they really GPS devices or do they use a more covert but reliable (i.e. not subject to screening) technology.

    1. JohnFen

      They're very likely using one or more of the commercial GPS car trackers that are available on the open market (even to you and I). These things are pretty simple -- they include a battery, a GPS receiver, and a data-only cell link. They typically work by having software call the device and download the GPS history.

      This also makes repurposing them reasonably easy -- just remove the SIM card and replace it with your own.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Then use their SIM in a burner phone & make lots of calls to premium rate services that in no way connect to you in any form.

        1. JohnFen

          The SIMs typically used in these devices are connected to data-only plans and cannot place phone calls at all, unfortunately.

          1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

            So download some ‘data’

            1. JJKing
              Thumb Up

              So download some ‘data’ 'porn'


    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      of course whats to stop someone using a discreet gps spoofer/jammer to mess with them?

  11. Aynon Yuser

    US border people are God's. They can do anything and everything they want, and they never have to answer to anyone.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      I think you meant "gods", but in case you didn't...

      The comment reminds me of the story that the Church of England once argued that it wasn't liable to employment law because all its staff were working in the service of God, who wasn't subject to UK law.

      That may have been a Yes, Minister joke.

      Then again, this being Britain, it may not have been.

      Either way, obviously, it wouldn't have worked in Oz, where even God (in the guise of the laws of mathematics) is subject to Parliamentary veto.

      1. Random Task

        You are right, being Britain its complicated

        More than you ever wanted to know on the subject:

  12. A random security guy Bronze badge

    Maybe I could start a screening service?

    Would it be legal to start a screening service that tells customers if their vehicles are being tracked or not?

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Maybe I could start a screening service?

      If you know what these things look like, then it helps - as a hint they look NOTHING like the ones on the movies.

      If you think of something that looks like a rounded anonymous pieces of automotive underbody ironwork with NO visible slots lights or other identifiers then you'd be getting close - and if dislodged you'll find some seriously strong magnets holding them in place (70kg pull isn't unusual, so removing them is quite hard and most people finding them do so because they know whatever it is shouldn't be there)

      The ones you see with magnets that make the units stand proud of the bodywork, or with rubber covers anywhere other than the attachment side, or which don't look like they're normal undercar hardware are toys that are easily found.

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