So, what exactly should you do?

Oct 04, 2010

Earlier today while prowling around in my RSS feed reader I came across this thread on Reddit, and I've been pondering what I would do were I in a similar situation. The original poster brought to Reddit a tale of a strange device found in the undercarriage of his friend's car, near the exhaust system but farther toward the center of the vehicle (if I interpret his description correctly). The mechanic didn't know what to make of it but some research showed that it was a GPS tracking device manufactured for federal law enforcement agencies by a company called Cobham Tracking and Locating; in case it's not clear they make devices used for tracking vehicles. I did a little bit of digging around but unfortunately wasn't able to find much. Nobody seems to have left any datasheets laying around (yet) and all of the FCC ID databases I could find seem to be offline so I wasn't able to get much from the FCC ID. There is speculation elsewhere that the hardware specs on the tracker are similar to this unit, and given the government's penchant for repurposing COTS kit there might be some truth to it, but I kind of doubt it.

The fairest thing you can say is that the device is large enough to spot easily if you're crawling around under the car. So, the question remains: what do you do if you discover one stuck to the suspension of your car?

There were many helpful suggestions in the Reddit forums (for certain values of 'helpful'), like attaching the unit to someone else's car/a police car/bus to lead them on a merry chase, selling it on eBay, and even mailing it from country to country or driving it around to spell out a message. However, the thing to keep in mind is that such a GPS tracking device doesn't automatically become yours if you happen to find it. It's still government property, and even if you weren't doing anything wrong before stealing and/or damaging government property is a felony, so it becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

After much deliberation, contemplation, revision, searching IMDB for the proper references, and second guessing (for the record, I'm not a lawyer and this isn't legal advice), the only advice I can give anyone in such a situation is don't fuck around. Don't do anything cute. Hire the services of a lawyer. It might be tempting to find yourself a GPS jammer (it's really not hard) or use a shortwave radio of some kind to find and jam the frequency the tracker is using to transmit your GPS coordinates, but deploying what amounts to a homebrew electronic warfare package is itself extremely suspicous. Making people whose job it is to be suspicious more so makes about as much sense as calling Batman a wuss. Whether or not you or anyone you know are doing anything shady, the fact that somebody with the authority to throw you in jail thought you or someone you know were important enough to put under surveillance means that you're now treading in some pretty deep water. The shark fins just broke the surface but they're a ways off yet (so to speak) so keep your head, smash your piggy bank, and call an expert. The poster who suggested getting in touch with the ACLU is probably pretty close to the mark.

Frankly, it sends a chill down my spine that life in the United States has come to this. At one time someone like you or I claiming to be under surveillance was considered a sign of clinical paranoia and worthy of counseling at the very least. Now it's not only a very real possibility but one that comes with photographs, research, and crowdsourced intelligence analysis (who needs to be on the Global Frequency when you're on Reddit and Twitter?) It's enough to make you want to cut the breakers, pop the battery out of your cellphone, crawl into bed, and pull the covers up over your head. Somewhere along the way, the world started going in the wrong direction, and to quote Christopher Titus, "I got nothing."

Anybody have any ideas of how to fix things? Leave 'em in the comments.