GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - A secretly hidden GPS device was how the FBI were able to track the suspects in the Oct. 13 bank robbery even before it happened.
That information is now raising questions about what some call an over-reaching government.
"The issue is whether or not we all have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our movements," said Federal Public Defender of Western Michigan Ray Kent. "I think most Americans would be upset at the thought if they leave work tonight and head home, the government is surreptitiously tracking their every movement."
FBI agents told Muskegon dispatchers on the day of the ChoiceOne robbery that they were tracking suspects Kristopher Cheyne and Derryl LaFave through GPS.
"Without putting this on the air, we have GPS on the vehicle and on a phone," FBI Task Force member Pat Harig told a dispatcher a short time after the robbery. "We do not need that on the air."
About 15 minutes before the robbery, a call from John King, the local head of the FBI, to the Muskegon Dispatch showed they'd been tracking them for at least a few days. They had already suspected Cheyne and LaFave in a pair of robberies in Moline.
"We've got a couple individuals we've been tracking that we think are responsible for other bank robberies down South and they've been putzing around in the Ravenna area the last couple of days," King said.
The debate over GPS tracking recently reached the U.S. Supreme Court because of a case that involved a cocaine dealer who had one hooked to his car without a valid warrant.
Opponents call it a case of "Big Brother" government.
"It does have Orwellian overtones," said Kent, the public defender.
A lower court in the D.C. area ruled officers needed a warrant before hiding a device on a vehicle.
The U.S. government said its use of GPS devices was in the "low thousands" each year, according to published reports. The Wall Street Journal identified more than 1,000 cases of cell phone tracking in several large U.S. cities last year.
In Michigan, Kent says his local public defenders office has appealed two cases to the Sixth District U.S. Court of Appeals after agents planted GPS devices on the cars of suspected drug dealers also without warrants. Those cases happened in the Upper Peninsula, he said. The appeals court put those cases on hold pending the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
"The critical issue for us lawyers is they're doing that without a warrant," Kent said.
In the Ravenna case, it's not clear whether the FBI had obtained a warrant. The U.S. Attorney's Office refused to comment. Target 8 searched federal court records, but found no warrants although they often are sealed.
The Obama administration argues feds shouldn't need a warrant, saying the technology allows them to capture what could be seen through direct surveillance.
"That's a big concern for all of us, to have the government watching essentially our every move," said Kent.
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