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ACLU Seeks GPS Spying Documents From FBI
ACLU asks federal court to force FBI to turn over memos on the use of GPS devices to track motorists.

Andrew Weissmann
The American Civil Liberties Union is getting increasingly involved in issues related to motorist privacy. The left-leaning civil rights group on Thursday launched a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in the hopes of forcing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to hand over policy memos that detail how the crime-fighting agency is implementing the US Supreme Court's recent Jones decision curtailing the use of GPS devices to spy on motorists without a warrant.

Lower courts have arrived at differing conclusions on how to interpret the high court's directive. A February talk by FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissmann disclosed the existence of two FBI memos covering how the ruling applies to other forms of transportation, the significance of international borders and the decision's relevance to other surveillance techniques. The agency has about three thousand GPS tracking devices on hand and the policies developed by the FBI have great influence on how others in the law enforcement community use the technology.

"Collecting personal data is increasingly easy for the government to do but hard for citizens to detect, so it's more important than ever for the American public to know the rules that law enforcement is operating under, especially when it comes to location tracking," ACLU attorney Catherine Crump said in a statement. "Knowing the FBI's position on what it can and can't do in investigations is essential if America's privacy laws are going to keep up with technology."

ACLU requested the memos on July 18, but the law enforcement agency refused to comply with the provisions of the freedom of information act. The FBI sent an August 2 letter acknowledging receipt of the request without complying with the statutory deadline either to produce the documents or cite an exemption.

Last month, the ACLU also sought information on automated license plate recognition cameras from federal and state government agencies. The group sued over parking ticket discrimination in Rhode Island in April, and last year it sought information on the Michigan State Police use of devices to extract information from cell phones belonging to stopped motorists. In 2008, the Rhode Island ACLU issued a report documenting problems with red light cameras.

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