Teardown: Inside an FBI Tracking Device

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iFixit’s latest teardown victim is not a shiny phone or fancy tablet, but an FBI tracking device for automobiles.

iFixit, a group best known for ripping open new gadgets and examining their internal components, got hold of an actual FBI tracking device from an “unknown owner,” who found it underneath his or her car. “Being in its presence, we can almost feel our civil liberties being flushed down the toilet,” the group said.

Here are some highlights from the teardown:

Non-permanent … not really: Ostensibly, the FBI tracking device isn’t permanently attached to the car, because it uses magnets. But these magnets are so powerful that they couldn’t be removed by ordinary means, so while some of the tracking components can be easily ripped from the target’s car, the magnetic mounting brackets may remain.

Two antennas: As you might expect, the FBI tracking device has two antennas — one to pull down GPS information from satellites, and another to send that data back to the feds.

Crazy battery life: The largest component of the tracking device is a battery pack that contains four lithium-thionyl chloride D cell batteries, meant for low power draws over a long period of time. The amount of juice is equivalent to an iPad 2 while drawing power at a lower rate, and the device also has a backup battery in case anything goes wrong.

Tamper-resistant: The FBI uses gobs of threadlocker to keep prying hands out of its tracking devices. Nothing that a power drill can’t handle.

There’s a chance that this tracking device is outdated. When California student Yasir Afifi found a similar device underneath his car last year, an anonymous former federal agent told Wired that the FBI now likes to place tracking devices in the car’s engine compartment, hardwired to the car battery.

That doesn’t mean the FBI won’t get upset to see one of its tracking tools dismantled for all the Internet to see. When Afifi pulled the tracking device off his car last year, and a friend posted photos online, the feds came knocking and demanded to have their equipment back. iFixit expects to hear from the FBI shortly.

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