Friday, November 23, 2007

Cell Phones and National Security

If you were hoping to get that new iPhone this holiday season, you might want to think again. Actually, you might want to ask for an extension cord for your land-based phone instead.

The WaPo reports:

Federal officials are routinely asking courts to order cellphone companies to furnish real-time tracking data so they can pinpoint the whereabouts of drug traffickers, fugitives and other criminal suspects, according to judges and industry lawyers.

In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives.

Such requests run counter to the Justice Department's internal recommendation that federal prosecutors seek warrants based on probable cause to obtain precise location data in private areas. The requests and orders are sealed at the government's request, so it is difficult to know how often the orders are issued or denied.

The issue is taking on greater relevance as wireless carriers are racing to offer sleek services that allow cellphone users to know with the touch of a button where their friends or families are. The companies are hoping to recoup investments they have made to meet a federal mandate to provide enhanced 911 (E911) location tracking. Sprint Nextel, for instance, boasts that its "loopt" service even sends an alert when a friend is near, "putting an end to missed connections in the mall, at the movies or around town." [...]

"Most people don't realize it, but they're carrying a tracking device in their pocket," said Kevin Bankston of the privacy advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Cellphones can reveal very precise information about your location, and yet legal protections are very much up in the air."

So if you want your family, or Big Brother, knowing your every move -- go ahead and ask for that phone! Why let a thing like warrantless tracking, probable cause, or the Fourth Amendment ruin your holidays!

"Permitting surreptitious conversion of a cellphone into a tracking device without probable cause raises serious Fourth Amendment concerns especially when the phone is in a house or other place where privacy is reasonably expected," said Judge Stephen William Smith of the Southern District of Texas, whose 2005 opinion on the matter was among the first published.

But judges in a majority of districts have ruled otherwise on this issue, Boyd said. Shortly after Smith issued his decision, a magistrate judge in the same district approved a federal request for cell-tower data without requiring probable cause. And in December 2005, Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein of the Southern District of New York, approving a request for cell-site data, wrote that because the government did not install the "tracking device" and the user chose to carry the phone and permit transmission of its information to a carrier, no warrant was needed.

These judges are issuing orders based on the lower standard, requiring a showing of "specific and articulable facts" showing reasonable grounds to believe the data will be "relevant and material" to a criminal investigation. [...]

The trend's secrecy is troubling, privacy advocates said. No government body tracks the number of cellphone location orders sought or obtained. Congressional oversight in this area is lacking, they said. And precise location data will be easier to get if the Federal Communication Commission adopts a Justice Department proposal to make the most detailed GPS data available automatically.

For further evidence of what I think about all the, please watch the JFK video below. Listen, and weep!


Fran said...

There was some asinine letter to the editor of the Albany paper on Wednesday, where someone mocks people who say we have lost privacy or civil rights due to the Patriot Act.

Then I read this in today's paper and now here, and would I like to say something to that blowhard.

Anyway, we are already far down the road on this and we are all being watched in some way or another.

This is really sad.

Forget sad- desperate is more like it.

Dr. Zaius said...

They can't track my cellphone! I accidently ran it through the washing machine. ;o(

BAC said...

Fran - not to mention kind of creepy!

Dr. Z - Oh, my ...


Distributorcap said...

the scariest part is that none of this will be turned back when the next POTUS enters the WH.....

the govt never gives back what it so easily has taken

i hope you had a great holiday!

dguzman said...

This trend is truly frightening, as is Yahoo's willingness to turn over all emails etc. to the govt. And there's no stopping it, as D-cap said. Bush is bad enough, but imagine if someone who's more evil (to mention more intelligent) than BushCo were to gain power--with all that data at their fingertips. We'd be in Gitmo faster than I could type the word verification below.