FBI Tracks Lincoln--Until Mechanic Catches Them

October 11, 2010

It’s not unusual for auto repair customers to request that in the course of routine maintenance (an oil change is a good example), the technician look underneath the car for anything else that might need attention. Most times this means the mechanic is on the lookout for a loose exhaust system or maybe a torn CV boot.

He’s usually more than glad to comply because that’s what it’s all about - uncovering customer’s needs and doing everything you can to fulfill them. In this case however it was the car owner who pointed out to the owner of Ali’s Auto Care in Santa Clara, California that there was a wire sticking out from between the right rear wheel and the exhaust of his Lincoln LS.

The shop owner must have been a brave soul because he offered to remove the battery pack and transmitter to which the wire was attached. From here the tale gets a bit like something written by Judd Apatow. For identification purposes a friend posted a picture of the device at Reddit writing, “when you come home to 2 stoned off their asses people who are hearing things in the device and convinced its a bomb you just gotta be sure.”

Somewhere along the line, according to a Wired article, the FBI gets very interested in recovering their reportedly very expensive tracking device which a commenter at Reddit identified as a Orion Guardian ST820 and indicated that is sold to only “army and law enforcement”.

Enter the ACLU and their need to test a ruling from the federal Ninth Circuit Court that says that a warrant is not needed by law enforcement in the use of GPS tracking devices. The student told Wired that an ACLU representative from Washington State told him that they were very interested in pursuing his case. The Ninth Circuit ruling conflicts with a Washington D.C. Circuit Court ruling requiring warrants, so the issue may end up in the United States Supreme Court.

Agents eventually visited the Lincoln owner, who is a 20-year-old American-born business marketing student.  They recovered the equipment after a policing effort that included two SUVs blocking his way, four bulletproof-vested officers and a lot of flashing lights.

Wired contacted a former FBI agent who confirmed the GPS type but said that it was an older unit that required a battery pack. Most are now installed so that their power source is from the vehicle’s battery and it would also be mounted so that it would not be found so easily, he said. So a technician’s quick look around the car may not always uncover the apparatus.

Unless of course they want you to find it.

[Wired, ExecutiveGov & Reddit]

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