The Government Can Now Track You, Sans Warrant, Via GPS

The word “Orwellian” gets tossed around a lot, which is unfortunate, because it takes power away from the things that actually are terrifyingly Orwellian–like this.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers California and eight other Western states, just made what might be the scariest ruling of the year. You know who else thinks so? The dissenting judge, a conservative, no less, who himself made the connection to Orwell’s 1984. This is bad, bad news, and the sooner it gets overturned the safer we should all feel.

The story dates back to 2007, when the Drug Enforcement Administration began monitoring one Juan Pineda-Moreno, an Oregonian whom the DEA suspected of maintaining a marijuana grow operation. DEA agents, in the words of Time magazine, “snuck onto his property in the middle of the night” and planted a GPS tracking device on the underside of his Jeep, which was parked in his driveway at the time.

Pineda-Moreno challenged this action in court, and reasonably so–the DEA agents invaded a citizen’s private property without a warrant of any kind. But a panel made up of three Ninth Circuit judges ruled that the action was legal, and their reasoning is, to say the least, shocking.

The judges claimed that Pineda-Moreno’s driveway is not, in fact, private, despite the fact that it is privately owned. Because the driveway is not protected by, for instance, a fence or gate, but is instead open to “strangers such as delivery men and neighborhood children”–like 99% of driveways in the country–it is not technically private.

Time points out the dual egregiousness of the decision. First, the idea that government agents have the legal right to invade and monitor a citizen’s private property without a warrant, and second, that those with fences, gates, guards, or security forces–in other words, rich people–are the only ones with truly “private” property.

Further, the judges ruled that the DEA was then legally allowed to use the data gathered by the GPS tracker, in direct contrast to a decision in a similar case made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.


Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, a Reagan-appointed conservative (perhaps more accurately a libertarian), voiced a strong dissent that reads more like a flat-out attack on the official ruling. Said the judge, “1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it’s here at last. Some day, soon, we may wake up and find we’re living in Oceania.” I couldn’t agree more.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in Brooklyn (no link for that one–you’ll have to do the legwork yourself).

About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law.