Print 14 comment(s) - last by mindless1.. on Jul 10 at 2:14 AM

Activists take ignored FoIA request to the next level

A pair of civil liberties groups is asking a federal court to hand over records describing the extent of the U.S. Department of Justice’s allegedly warrantless tracking of cell phone users.

The lawsuit, filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union, arose amidst a rash of news reports indicating that the government was bypassing warrants and the need for probable cause in order to secretly track cell phone users. The complaint alleges that a handful of federal prosecutors said they were able to obtain “tracking data directly from mobile carriers without any court involvement.”

The case, filed July 1, will be heard in a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The ACLU previously filed a Freedom of Information Act request last November, but says its request remains unfulfilled.

“The information now in the public domain suggests that [the DOJ] may be engaging in unauthorized and potentially unconstitutional tracking of individuals through their mobile phones,” read the complaint. “Information pertaining to the DOJ's procedures for obtaining real-time tracking information is vital to the public's understanding of the privacy risks of carrying a mobile phone and of, more generally, the government's expansive view of its surveillance powers.”

“Signing up for cell phone services should not be synonymous with signing up to be spied on and tracked by the government,” said ACLU staff attorney Catherine Crump. “This is a critical opportunity to shed much-needed light on possibly unconstitutional government surveillance techniques.”

A DOJ representative declined comment on the suit but said the agency has “absolutely no interest in tracking the locations of law abiding citizens.”

“It is important to remember that the courts determine whether or not cell-site data or more precise cell location data can be turned over to law enforcement in a particular case,” said DOJ National Security Division spokesman Dean Boyd. “Instead, law enforcement goes through the courts to lawfully obtain data to help locate criminal suspects, sometimes in cases where lives are literally hanging in the balance, such as a child abduction case or a serial murderer on the loose.”

While it may not be directly related to the ongoing NSA wiretapping scandal, it appears that the DOJ has now been thrust into the ongoing privacy debate surrounding the government’s secret acquisition and usage of telecommunications data – a battle that the Justice Department previously avoided.

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If only
By lifeblood on 7/8/2008 10:01:16 AM , Rating: 3
If only I could be sure this was only used to find Terrorists, I would have no problem with it. But we can't. If the government can do it for good reasons, they will do it for bad reasons. Anyone remember "filegate" back in the early days of the Clinton presidency? If you search you will find examples of government bureaucrats and cops using official powers for petty personal reasons like screwing a neighbor who pissed them off.

I don't trust the government, any government, but they are necessary. But I don't want them to have any more power then they must.

The government has the power to wiretap and track us, all they need is probable cause and a warrant.

RE: If only
By fictisiousname on 7/8/2008 10:06:23 AM , Rating: 3
"The government has the power to wiretap and track us, all they need is probable cause and a warrant."


And while current technology wasn't foreseen by the creators of our Constitution, they had the foresight to assure there were checks and balances.

No warrant, no surveillance!

RE: If only
By FITCamaro on 7/8/2008 10:20:36 AM , Rating: 2
Getting a warrant in time is not always possible. That is the reason they want the freedom to do it without one.

That's like having our soldiers ask for permission before starting to shoot at people in Iraq who are attacking them....oh wait.....we're (largely) making them do that....

RE: If only
By lifeblood on 7/8/2008 11:01:24 AM , Rating: 2
Under the rules of engagement they are allowed to return fire if they are under fire. They ALWAYS have the right to defend themselves if their life is in danger. However, if they are not under attack but see people with weapons or burying what appears to be a land mine, they may have to call in for permission to act. That various with where they are and what they are doing.

RE: If only
By archermoo on 7/8/2008 2:45:40 PM , Rating: 3
Which is why they have, in appropriate circumstances, the ability to get a retroactive warrant. They can do the surveillance on time and still have 3 days to file the paperwork and get it in front of a judge. Doesn't seem overly restrictive to me.

RE: If only
By Adonlude on 7/9/2008 1:08:50 PM , Rating: 2
I really really hope that what they find during that surveillance cannot be used or even shown to the judge to justify the retroactive warrant.

RE: If only
By imperator3733 on 7/8/2008 3:25:31 PM , Rating: 2
There are several cases where warrants aren't needed for searches, most notably for searching motor vehicles. Since warrants need to say where and when the search will be, it is impossible to make out a warrant to search a vehicle.

That said, if it is possible to get a warrant, they need to do that. I may not like it if the government is spying on me, but if they have a warrant and probable cause, they have that right. If they don't have both, then they do not have any right to spy on me.

RE: If only
By mindless1 on 7/10/2008 2:14:44 AM , Rating: 1
What rock have you been living under if you haven't yet heard of the warrantless wiretaps the gov declares their right to conduct?

Body doesn't support the Title
By jhb116 on 7/8/2008 11:27:50 AM , Rating: 2
Once again - the title talks to illegal wiretapping and the body talks about tracking. Personnally - although I'm a bit uncomfortable with the gov't tracking me, I'm much more concerned with businesses tracking me and how that information is used. At least the gov't has specific rules on how such info can be used even though some employees don't follow those rules. If it isn't legal for the gov't then it sure shouldn't be legal for companies to do so either.

By take2la on 7/8/2008 12:19:01 PM , Rating: 2
Why doesn't the department just ask Sumner Redstone for the tracking data since, if he doesn't have it by now, chances are he'll file to get it before noon. This way we could track all our privacy violations to one source. More convenient that way. More environmentally friendly anyway. I'm sure Sumner wouldn't mind either. My phone post directly to youTube anyway
whats a few more terrabytes one way or the other.

By Denigrate on 7/8/08, Rating: -1
By masher2 on 7/8/2008 11:19:45 AM , Rating: 2
As an (ex) "card-carrying member" of the ACLU, I have to admit, they've slid a long, long ways from their salad days. Many of their cases today do more to harm liberty and personal freedom than to help it.

Still, they're on track with this particular case. Warrantless tapping is a slippery slope with many sharp and dangerous objects at the bottom.

By Hawkido on 7/8/2008 4:09:13 PM , Rating: 2
The complaint alleges that a handful of federal prosecutors said they were able to obtain “tracking data directly from mobile carriers without any court involvement.”

I agree with Warrentless tapping of US citizens. However, if one party on the phone is over seas, then I have no problems with it.

But that is not the case at hand either way. This is using Cell tower information to tringulate a particular Cell number's location and movement. Which the Gov't already has access to. We don't dispute this... try crank calling 911 or the White House from your cell phone, trust me they don't need a warrent to track you.

Level 2 Cell tracking is being installed nation-wide as part of the 911 upgrades, Level 1 would just report which tower you were getting service off of and approximate how far you are from it. Level 2 tries to deduct your location based on movement and number of towers your cell phone CAN communicate with, to triangulate your location.

We have consigned this info to a corporate entity, who stores this info into a database. Once they store the data it is theirs, not yours, it is part of your license agreement with the cell carrier. The government then just requests the info. This is needed to track disposable cell phones. Only conspiracy theorists, and terrorists buy disposable phones and a few parents who buy them for their kids who will loose them, or damage them frequently... Only terrorists buy them by the basket full.

When has there ever been an expectation of privacy on a cell phone?

By lifeblood on 7/8/2008 4:57:31 PM , Rating: 2
Their is an expectation of privacy on a phone; be it cell, portable, or wired. Yes, it's easier for somebody to listen in on my cell or portable, and if they knew how they could tap my wired phone, but the expectation is there. Especially from the government.

By your argument we should have no expectation of privacy anywhere. Because somebody could peak in my home's window, I should have no expectation of privacy there. Because my phone conversation crosses the phone companies phone lines, I have no expectation of privacy. I reject that argument.

I don't mind if the government makes the phone company keep the tracking data for my cell phone. I only insist that it requires a search warrant to get it.

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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