New Fed warrantless GPS trackers discovered in the wild

As the fight over the warrantless placing of GPS trackers on suspects' cars continues, Americans continue to discover hidden GPS trackers. Wired's looked at these before, and today they've got the story of "Greg," a young man in San Jose, California, who found not one, but two warrantless trackers on his SUV.

The 25-year-old resident of San Jose, California, says he found the first one about three weeks ago on his Volvo SUV while visiting his mother in Modesto, about 80 miles northeast of San Jose. After contacting Wired and allowing a photographer to snap pictures of the device, it was swapped out and replaced with a second tracking device. A witness also reported seeing a strange man looking beneath the vehicle of the young man’s girlfriend while her car was parked at work, suggesting that a tracking device may have been retrieved from her car...

Greg says he discovered the first tracker on his vehicle after noticing what looked like a cell phone antenna inside a hole on his back bumper where a cable is stored for towing a trailer. The device, the size of a mobile phone, was not attached to a battery pack, suggesting the battery was embedded in its casing...

On Tuesday, Nov. 1, Wired photographer Jon Snyder went to San Jose to photograph the device. The next day, two males and one female appeared suddenly at the business where Greg’s girlfriend works, driving a Crown Victoria with tinted windows. A witness reported to Greg that one of the men jumped out of the car, bent under the front of the girlfriend’s car for a few seconds, then jumped back into the Crown Victoria and drove off. Wired was unable to confirm the story.

There was no writing on the tracker to identify its maker, but a label on the battery indicated that it’s sold by a small firm in Farmingdale, New York, called Revanche. A notice on a government web site last June indicates that it was seeking 500 of the batteries and 250 battery chargers for the Drug Enforcement Administration. A separate notice on the same site in 2008 refers to a contract for what appears to be a similar Revanche battery. The notice indicates the batteries work with GPS devices made by Nextel and Sendum.

Busted! Two New Fed GPS Trackers Found on SUV


  1. Who else drives Crown Victoria’s other than government workers? They should really look into other vehicle choices if they are looking to be stealthy.

    1. Their stealth comes from not knowing what department they represent, and as such can toss any complaint back and forth until the complainer gives up in frustration…

  2. I’m curious. If I find one of these devices on my car, why can’t I legally remove the device and keep it? In my view, the GPS device would become my property the moment someone leaves it attached to my car without my knowledge or authorization.

    Alternatively, what might happen if I remove the device and attach it to someone else’s car?

      1. If I’m remembering correctly, in at least one instance Gubmint Agentry showed up at someone’s door demanding the return of their device.

        I have a similar recollection – but I can’t recall what eventually happened. 

        I’d recommend taking the device into the house (possibly in a soundproof box and/or Faraday cage) and placing a classified ad and/or Craigslist posting saying something like “Found: GPS tracker, partial serial number xxx. Will return to owner if presented proof of ownership”. Or else just put it on eBay. The right thing to do would normally be to see if the local Police have a Found Property service – but in this case that would just mean the device could be all-too-quietly reclaimed.

        One other thing: we’re all assuming this is the Feds. It almost certainly is. But if the Feds are given carte blanche to perform this sort of cloak-and-dagger nonsense, it makes it really easy for private parties to do the same; such private parties can expect to get away with it because everyone will assume they’re the Feds.

        1. Slight tweak on your suggestion: Dust it for fingerprints and do a TSA style screen for drug and explosive residue. 


          Keeping it in the Faraday cage, take it to the airport, run it through TSA screening, where they will find it, and allow the situation to just play out.

          one way or the other, you really need to get the TSA involved!

    1. I might just FedEx it to China to screw with them, but I wouldn’t want to accidentally start World War 3…

  3. Just remove and reinstall on a taxi or ambulance or some other service vehicle and enjoy! Given the evidence in the above article they are very easy to remove.

  4. I wonder if you could drain the battery somehow so they’d have to keep coming back to replace it/replace the battery.  Eventually they’d either get a new vendor or figure out you were screwing with them.

    Not that I’d recommend this course of action.  I’m not sure what I’d do if it happened to me.  Probably consult with a lawyer.

  5. “The Federal Government has no record of ever being contacted by a GPS entity, nor is there any credible proof a GPS entity has ever contacted other humans.”

  6. It would be lulzy to take it off your car and slap it on the nearest police cruiser, cargo ship, or aircraft. Unfortunately being caught trying to plant a strange device like that would land you in federal custody indefinitely and introduce you to the exciting world of involuntary prostate exams.

    Perhaps the message-in-a-bottle approach would be best. Check the tides, seal it up in something that floats, and send it off to find Gilligan, Hurley, and Wilson.

  7. How can you tell whether a tracking unit is warrantless or not? Is there a warrant database I can search?

    1. Well, time was they’d have to actually show you a hard copy of the warrant to enforce it.  But I’m not entirely sure that’s true any more.

      GPS carrier signal is 1575.42 MHz according to wikipedia, you can probably make or buy a cigarette lighter-powered oscillator to jam that if you’re the paranoid type — that would prevent a passive unit from accurately keeping tabs on you.  (You wouldn’t be able to use Garmin or GPS on your phone either.)  Unfortunately, the units used by LEOs are probably all going to be passive, especially given that they seem to be returning to “the scene of the crime” as it were. 

      Maybe I can start an etsy business making GPS jammers with 3D printed exteriors that look like minecraft blocks.  If that doesn’t get on the BoingBoing main page then I’m out of ideas.

      1. “Maybe I can start an etsy business making GPS jammers with 3D printed exteriors that look like minecraft blocks.  If that doesn’t get on the BoingBoing main page then I’m out of ideas.”

        Try brass fittings and leather.

      2. All good points, I submit that these units more likely use the cell networks for ‘not actually GPS but close enough’ location, and the much more useful real-time tracking.

        Also, EVIDENCE cannot be gathered without a warrant. If they never intend to present it as evidence, then I fear they take greater leeway >9/11.

        Further, if they actually just want to cut in on your market, what better way to ID suppliers and customers??

        1. That evidence point is true, but they also can’t use anything they discover because they undertook an illegal search. It’s the Fruits of the Poisonous Tree doctrine. If you could show that they never would have found evidence but for the illegal activity the evidence (even if obtained with a warrant) would be thrown out.

          1. I agree with you, but if all the conspiracies about the gov’t actually being part of the marketplace were to be true, this would be awful convenient information. /tin foil hat.

        2. Good point on the cell towers, I’ll have to do some research on that.  But I’ll have to say, I use the cell tower location on my iPhone (because I’m not willing to OK the terms and conditions for the GPS functionality) and it’s woefully imprecise.  90% of the time it can’t even pinpoint which block I’m on (downtown Boston, AT&T — not sure what the impact of location and carrier is but thought it was worth mentioning).  If they’re trying to use this to track buyers to dealers I’m not sure cellphone triangulation is going to cut it.  If they’re just using it to time deals whose locations they already know it might work.

        3. Nailed it on all three counts.   Its like we can see the future sometimes isnt it.
                It seems almost obvious that a poorly run corporation such as our government, given the opportunity and ability to cut in on a profitable market, would surely do so.  Possibly even outright steal ideas or valuable information intercepted from phones, emails, and very probably from the many physical items that now go through customs or even airport scrutiny.

          It really is wicked times we live in.  Good honest men have more to fear from their own government than they do criminals and terrorists combined.

          I had to add this edit, This is the cost of giving up our very real freedom for a fake sense of “Security” of which nobody can truly provide.

    2. Well typically, if there’s a warrant they have to SERVE it to you, just like a subpoena or a court summons or whatever. These so-called “secret” warrants are unconstitutional.

      1. Well typically, if there’s a warrant they have to SERVE it to you, just like a subpoena or a court summons or whatever. These so-called “secret” warrants are unconstitutional.

        Well, no. You’re thinking of arguments about a search warrant; secret search warrants are a recent and very disturbing development. But if you think of this as being like a wiretapping warrant, it’s obvious that the target is not presented with the warrant, and I don’t think anyone is arguing those warrants are unconstitutional. More generally, just because something is a grab for power and a bad idea doesn’t make it “unconstitutional”, and there’s nothing in the Constitution against secret searches – just against unjustified searches.

  8. I have an idea for a new Constitutional amendment to prevent this sort of thing. It goes something like this:

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers,
    and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
    violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause,
    supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place
    to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    Whaddayall think?

  9. They should just give out free Garmin GPSs.  If they’re going to track us, we might as well get something out of it.

  10. I am wondering what they were suspicious of, regarding this guy visiting family in Modesto.  Modesto, as you know, is the cheap wine capital of the world, as well as many thousands of acres of NUTS and FRUITS.

  11. But, as someone above said, how do you know this was warrantless? Greg could be the subject of a DEA investigation that is fully supported by warrants based on good faith oaths and affirmations and scrutinized by an impartial judge, right? I don’t understand how you get from the tracker to warrantless tracking. Did I miss something?

    1. Congratulations- you’ve just diagnosed another aspect of how broken this system is. We can’t trust the FBI to get warrants and obey the law- so we don’t know that what they’re doing is legal.

      A major problem for a law-enforcement agency, wouldn’t you say?

  12. It would be cool if you guys shared some info on how one might go about detecting such a device. EM handheld sensor?

    1. It would be cool if you guys shared some info on how one might go about detecting such a device. EM handheld sensor?

      If it’s purely a GPS tracker (or, pssibly merely records which cell towers it detects), it can be completely passive, and need not broadcast or significantly emit anything – though that would mean the data it collected couldn’t be read in real time, and the device would have to be collected and read, or at least remotely triggered to broadcast.

    2.  bugsweeps have been on the market on for years, and most 4-year EE grads can make their own.  It takes a long time to adequately sweep a car or room for transmitters, but even the most sophisticated modulation technique will have a carrier signature to give it away.  But if the tracker is smartly programmed to transmit periodically rather than continuously, you’ll likely never sniff the carrier out.

  13. 1.  Remove device from car
    2.  Open device, remove electronics, detach battery
    3.  Fill empty case with dog poo, reseal case
    4.  Replace device back under car

      1. “That small black box under my car?  I thought it’d be handy to keep shit in.”

        I can’t imagine a court could prosecute you for tampering with something you found under your own car and had no knowledge of what it was or where it came from – you wouldn’t even have to play that dumb.

      2. But then they’d have to admit that it was their device that he removed, and that would be just as bad for them.

        1. “They” might not have to admit anything. Possible dialog, a few months down the line:

          Detainee 1: “So, what did you get extraordinarily renditioned for?”

          Detainee 2: “Too many vacations to rural Pakistan. You?”

          Detainee 1: “I’m not sure, but it may have something to do with GPS and dog poo…”

      3. I believe that requires intent, and since you don’t know that its US property, i doubt it would hold up in court. Besides, i don’t think “they” would want to make a bid deal out of this or prosecute cuz that would bring them under public scrutiny.

  14.  My advice would be to drive to the nearest rail yard and tape it to the underside of a freight car. It would confuse them to think you were making a few cross country trips every month.

    1. I think a better idea would just be to stop on a street and leave it in a puddle.  This way, though there are fewer lulz, there’s no way they can prove it didn’t just fall off.  No need to give them the idea that you are on to them.

      1. Or go find a random ass police car, double take to make sure your not being watched, and slap that puppy underneath the baconmobile.

    2. Or mail it to the FBI/DHS headquarters with a nice little note telling them they’re it, and its their turn to try and hide it somewhere where i can’t find it. Egregious violations of civil rights and privacy can be fun you know…..

  15. I think the key here is to learn to recognize the device so you can remove it from the vehicle and have some fun with the feds by shipping it all over the world. The farther a-field you can send it, the better.

  16. Even more interesting is the assertion in the article that cops showed up when they met to photograph it, but did not interfere. That was either a huge coincidence, or the guy also has people listening in on his phone calls or reading his emails. Seems like with that kind of coverage, there’s shouldn’t be an unemployment problem, we should all be able to get jobs with the gov spying on each other!

  17. Lots of GPS jammers being sold (just google ’em). Now, when is someone going to come up with a “GPS faker”, which will let you use a Google Maps interface to input a preset path. Then the “faker” will transmit the necessary signals to make the GPS device believe it’s taking that path.

    I know it ain’t a simple spoofing, but I’m sure if someone finds a way to do it, they’ll make a pretty decent profit. (Before their unaccountable disappearance, that is)

  18. The information gained by these is probably not admissible in court, 


    They can use whatever they want in front of a Grand Jury (federal or otherwise) to get a true bill and begin prosecution/investigation.

    They can also take the inadmissible crap (lies, rumors, here-say etc.) that they collect and use that to convince a Judge to sign the warrants they want for wiretapping or searching “persons of interest”.

  19. I think the slippery slope for the Supremes to consider isn’t what happens if this becomes legal and the government can track anybody with impunity, but what happens when ANY organization can track anybody with impunity.  Organized crime might like to know where all law enforcement vehicles are, or a foreign government might want to track defectors, or Facebook check-ins just mysteriously happen, like it or not.

  20. I suspect anyone reading this thread is aware of this, but possibly far more worrisome is warrant-free access to the tracker most of us already carry: our cell phone. The cops can call your cell provider and ask where you are, or even where you’ve been; the TSA, or the cops at a traffic stop, can download a log of your travels from your phone. None of this is regulated well, much of it does not currently require a warrant, and at least some of it – asking a cell provider for subscriber location – is all too often abused.

  21. How about just taking it for a drive and tossing it out your window on the interstate, and then go home and wait for the next one.

  22. step 1) go to dealextreme  ( or focalprice or any one of those direct-ship from China sites)
    Step 2) order a GPS jammer that can fit in your cig. lighter socket. About $40.
    Step 3) Profit! (Or lose. Someone is bound to lose) 

  23. Actually, I wonder how legal it would be to pull one of these off, wrap it in a faraday cage, and then wrap that in aluminum foil. It would kill all signals coming out of it, without damaging it in anyway, if these accuse you of messing with it, just unwrap it, and viola, no problems.

    1. They would probably charge you with interfering in an investigation if they could find evidence of you tampering with it.

      They would have a harder time proving it did not just fall off your bumper and into the bay (unless your prints were on it).

  24. I would just throw it away. I don’t know what it is, I don’t who put it on my car, but it wasn’t me, so I treated it like a flyer on the windshield.

    1. What if it was a bomb, not a GPS logger?

      No, if you find something installed on your car without your permission, and it looks like the thing in the picture, it is time to call the local police (and paper).  Then they can send the bill for rolling out the bomb squad etc to the feds.

      This needs to show up in a case on CSI or something where someone does that, the lab starts  trying to find evidence of its origins and finds a fingerprint etc. etc. etc…

      1. I’m not that quick a thinker. In fact, I can’t really conceive of anyone wanting to track or explode my car, so it is pretty theoretical to me. You make a good point though.

  25. I can’t believe all the geeks here forgetting what they have learned with rules based systems think D&D you don’t make your DM brake down and cry by cheating you do it by braking the game with the existing rules.

    In this case after confirming you have a device like this under your car you call 911 and report that you saw someone (who you can’t really describe now) place a suspicious device under your car.  They will have to respond and so will the bomb squad and ATF and anyone else who wants to going along for the ride, and how can you get in trouble for been an upstanding citizen and reporting a suspicious act like that? You didn’t put it there so your not responsible.

    And keep a camera from a safe distance pointed at your car in case “someone” comes along before the party above arrives and removes the device before it can be found.

    This happens a few times you won’t need a judge to decide if its ok or not to put devices like this on cars the cost of the incidents will stop it soon enough.

    1. That’s exactly what I was thinking. If you find an unknown device on your car, who says it’s not a bomb? In the post-9/11 world, shouldn’t every law-abiding citizen assume the worst and call 911 to report a possible bomb or who knows what it might be?

      Let them pull out in full force. At the very least, they’ll be pissed for wasting resources on some illegal tracking device. Maybe they’ll leave it there and have to explain to you that some agency is tracking you, or they’ll confiscate it and the agency will have to plant a new one, after which the circus starts over again.

  26. Take a tip from the artist mentioned in a recent BoingBoing piece that just tracks his entire life and posts it for the authorities to devalue his information. Just remove the device from the car and keep it on your person at all time increasing the granularity of the (completely illegal) tracking.

  27. Seems like a good reason for everyone to start driving motorcycles and mopeds – much harder to hide such a device on one of those.

  28. Fill it with catnip and suspend it over Little Chicago.  Don’t forget to leave the trapdoor open.

  29. Also if you find one of these, you’re supposed to turn it in to your local police so they can send it back to whomever planted it on you, and they can plant a new one on you.  Actually they’ll probably just start leaving your car alone, and begin “picket surveillance”.  If you have nothing to hide, this is the best solution – makes your surveillance much, much more expensive for the spooks. 
    If you find one and don’t turn it in or report it to the cops, the agency who planted the device can and will charge you with tampering with federal comms and a list of other related shit – you won’t get away with pleading ignorance.

  30. As hillarious as FedexIng  it to China or attaching it to a freight car would be to “screw with them”, if you’re talking about civil servents acting above the law, raising their ire and comming home to your house being searched probably isn’t the best plan.

    I’d talk to a lawyer and file suit.  You can sue the government.

  31. I’d just remove it from the car and place it at the end of the driveway with a sign that said “$20”. It would disappear within the hour, and no, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea what happened to it.

  32. How can you tell the difference between one of those and some sort of IED?  I’d call the bomb squad just to be safe, and hopefully they’ll blow up my piece of crap car so I can finally feel good about getting a new one.

  33. USA, where are you headed?

    And I seriously ponder, as I look at the big picture and all the news that come out of the States. Sometimes it’s the small details – like this one, that make me wonder. What is the cumulative effect? Or rather – what are these symptoms a sign of? What’s still to come?

    I once wanted to live and work there, marvel at all that was wonderful in the US. Now I rather watch from the distance and sometimes, I even try to look the other way.

    1. I completely agree. The US used to be this wonderful place, land of the free, etc. Now it barely distinguishable from a police state. I certainly have no intention to submit myself to invasive TSA groping, risk of long term arrest without trial or charges, or the possibility that police might assault me for no reason with impunity.

      USA, you’ve become a scary place.

  34. Despite having had all the standard fantasies of attaching it to a city bus or a police cruiser, or putting it in a box and FedExing it to the FBI headquarters, I’d probably just remove it to my passenger compartment, then while driving down a bumpy gravel road or a road with some big potholes, throw it out the window by a big bump.  “Gee, must have  just shaken loose.”

    Or take the battery out and drop it into an ammo box where it couldn’t communicate (I’d do both), so that you could call up Wired or someone to see if they wanted to see it.  The owners would probably assume it dropped out while in transit and broke or the battery fell out.

  35. Since they seem to count on quick retrieval, I sorta think it would be fun to superglue it in place.   Then maybe add suture superglue blisters on the likely handholds.  Attach it to something that unlatches the trunk when pulled on…  put mousetraps on it… 

    Where’s Macaulay Culkin when you need him…?

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