In the wake of the Manchester bombing, Britain and other European countries may want to follow Germany’s lead to begin using GPS ankle tracking device as the only cost-effective means to keep track of the thousands of persons on watch lists or otherwise suspected of potential terrorist activities, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

The Evening Standard reported that Salman Abedi, the Manchester bomber “was known to security services” but was not under surveillance or otherwise being investigated because “they did not believe he posed an immediate threat,” and keeping track of the thousands of persons under suspicion at any time to prevent another Manchester bombing style attack is prohibitively expensive.

Manchester Bombing
Scenes from the 1996

Manchester Bombing by the IRA pictured above – Photoe By Parrot of Doom (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

But requiring such persons to wear inexpensive GPS ankle tracking devices would make it possible for the first time for authorities to easily and inexpensively monitor the movements of thousands of terrorist suspects in real time, says Banzhaf, who claims that the use of such devices might have prevented many of the recent terrorist tragedies, both in Europe and in the U.S.

The Manchester bombing marks the 13th deadly terrorist attack in Western Europe since the beginning of 2015, and many were caused by persons on watch lists or otherwise under suspicion, but who could not feasibly be kept under surveillance or otherwise monitored, says Banzhaf.

Not just the Manchester bombing – several other attacks were perpetrated by individuals known to security authorities.

For example, MI5 had tried to monitor Khalid Masood, the terrorist who recently mowed down people with his car before stabbing a police officer to death outside Westminster Palace, because of concerns about “violent extremism,” but he wasn’t deemed enough of a threat to justify surveillance.

Similarly Anis Amri, who drove a truck through a Berlin Christmas market killing 12 people in December, had been identified as a terrorist threat months before the attack, but was not apprehended, and could not feasibly be kept under surveillance.

Indeed, it was this incident which has now led Germany’s upper house of parliament – in a country which boasts some of the world’s toughest privacy laws – to adopt a rule mandating electronic ankle bracelets for terror suspects.

Some of the attackers behind the 2015 Paris terror attack had also been monitored for a time by both Belgian and French intelligence services, but not well enough to prevent them from coordinating a terrorist attack which killed 130 people.

In France, the gunman who killed a police officer at the Champs-Elysees in April had been the subject of a counterterrorism investigation in March, but did not warrant the expense of continued monitoring. The country now has a government policy which tags terrorism suspects.

Norway is reportedly considering a similar policy, and ICE already uses thousands of ankle monitors to keep track of many people already in the system.

Requiring people who are already on a watch list, or are otherwise under suspicion as potential terrorists, to wear an ankle monitoring device permits law enforcement authorities to do what they cannot possibly do now – keep large numbers of suspects under effective surveillance.

Keeping even 1 person under 24-hour surveillance generally requires, at a minimum, 3 different 2-person teams, and even then a clever terrorist might well be able to slip out through an unsecured exit.

On the other hand, notes Banzhaf, ankle monitors permit one law enforcement official to monitor the locations of hundreds of suspected terrorists around the clock.

Such systems can easily be programmed to signal the agent if any suspect departs from his usual normal travel routines, if he goes near a suspicious location such as an armory or airport, if he meets with other suspects likewise wearing an ankle monitor, etc.

Moreover, if an event should occur, authorities can have the computer determine, after the fact, if any suspects being monitored visited the site, met with anyone else involved, etc.

It has been suggested that President Trump might consider requiring refugees, or others seeking to enter the U.S. who cannot be satisfactorily vetted, to wear such devices to help keep track of them and thereby detect or deter potential terrorist activities, especially if judicial action continues to prevent him from instituting a travel ban.

This should be possible because 8 USC 1182(f) gives the president the authority to “impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate”; a power not limited in any way by a Section 1152(a) bar on discrimination based upon nationality.

So, requiring the wearing of an ankle monitor – which is much less of an imposition than being barred from entering the country – would not even arguably be prohibited by statute, notes Banzhaf, and might be more likely to pass constitutional muster.

ICE seemingly has no hesitation about using inexpensive but efficient ankle monitors to help insure that people will show up for legal proceedings. States and cities likewise use them to keep track of people suspected even of minor offenses such as drunk driving. Why not use them to help prevent deadly terrorist attacks, argues Banzhaf.

While constitutional objections might prevent the federal government from requiring everyone on the watch list or no-fly list to wear an ankle monitor, requiring it for people under suspicion who have been convicted of any offense might well pass constitutional muster, suggests Banzhaf.

What is clear is that simply raising the threat level from severe to critical, or trying to station thousands of additional law enforcement personnel around ever widening perimeters of an ever growing number of so-called soft targets, will probably not be as effective, and certainly will be much less efficient, than 24- hour surveillance of suspected terrorists by using proven ankle monitor, argues Banzhaf.