John W. Whitehead
Voicing his discontent with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in United States v. Pineda-Moreno, which declared the warrantless use of a GPS tracking device to be constitutional, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski warned, “We are taking a giant leap into the unknown, and the consequences for ourselves and our children may be dire and irreversible. Some day, soon, we may wake up and find we’re living in Oceania.”
Indeed, we are already living in George Orwell’s totalitarian state known as Oceania, where the all-seeing government sees and tracks everything we do. By asserting that the police can constitutionally sneak onto a private driveway without a warrant and stick a GPS tag on your car so that they can remotely track you, the Ninth Circuit didn’t necessarily break any new ground. Rather, they merely confirmed what we have suspected all along: that the concept of private property is dead and along with it, the right against unreasonable searches and seizures once protected by the Fourth Amendment.
Having outstripped our ability as humans to control it, technology has become our Frankenstein’s monster. Delighted with technology’s conveniences, its ability to make our lives easier by doing an endless array of tasks faster and more efficiently, we have given it free rein in our lives, with little thought to the legal or moral ramifications of doing so. Thus, we have no one but ourselves to blame for the fact that technology now operates virtually autonomously according to its own invasive code, respecting no one’s intimate moments or privacy and impervious to the foibles of human beings and human relationships.
For example, consider how enthusiastically we welcomed Global Positioning System (GPS) devices into our lives. We’ve installed this satellite-based technology in everything from our phones to our cars to our pets. Yet by ensuring that we never get lost, never lose our loved ones and never lose our wireless signals, we are also making it possible for the government to never lose sight of us, as well.
GPS, originally known as Navstar, is funded and operated by none other than the U.S. Department of Defense. The U.S. military controls the satellites used by GPS devices and transmits signals to ground GPS receivers. The U.S. Air Force, by means of ground stations, sustains 24 operational GPS satellites at all times. These synchronized satellites emit signals at the same time. A GPS receiver located on earth collects the signals that travel at the speed of light. The receiver calculates the distance to the satellites by determining the time it takes for the emitted signal to reach the GPS receiver. Once a time is determined for at least four of the GPS satellites, the receiver can pinpoint your location in three dimensions, including latitude, longitude, and altitude.
10 Ways We’re Being Tracked, Traced, and Databased