A lot of paranoia is going on about this one, and the ACLU have found another tree to bark at the government on.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a lawsuit today urging a federal court to order the Department of Justice (DOJ) to turn over records related to the government's use of people's cell phones as tracking devices. The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the records in November 2007 following revelations that federal officials are using Americans' cell phones to pinpoint their locations, sometimes without a warrant or any court oversight. The DOJ has failed to release the documents or provide an adequate response to the request.
"This is a critical opportunity to shed much-needed light on possibly unconstitutional government surveillance techniques," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU and lead attorney on the case. "Signing up for cell phone services should not be synonymous with signing up to be spied on and tracked by the government."
The ACLU submitted the FOIA request to the DOJ after media reports revealed that some government officials claim not to need probable cause to obtain real-time tracking information from people's cell phones. The reports also suggested that some federal law enforcement agents have obtained tracking data directly from mobile phone service providers without any court oversight.
The request for information includes documents, memos and guides regarding the policies and procedures for tracking individuals through the use of their cell phones, as well as information about the number of times the government has applied for cell phone location information without establishing probable cause and how many times it has been granted.
Don't jump on the paranoia bandwagon on this one, the case is far from clear cut. Nothing is being searched. Their is no seizure of anything private. People can be followed without a warrant. So why would a warrant be needed to know someone's location?
Mark Adams at American Street makes these points and more:
Now just calm down and think for a minute.
They could follow you without a warrant.
They could ring your doorbell to see if you answer without a warrant.
They can set up a stake out across your street and monitor your coming and going without a warrant.
They can check your garbage and find out where you picked up the take out you had for dinner without a warrant.
If you leave your home, you are by definition “out in public.” Where’s the expectation of privacy when you are in public? If you’re not out in public, you must be at home or where-ever you went when you left home and went out in public to get there.
Location is a status, not a thing to be seized or a conversation that can be intercepted. You don’t need a warrant to find out someone’s status: alive or dead, male or female, felon or clean record, physical description, valid or suspended license — home or roaming the public streets.
Indeed, people do not have an expectation of privacy when travelling in public. If so, they need help other than legal.
AJ Strata weighs in:
Note how the ACLU and these folks never put context around the question of invasion? All US Person require warrants when they are the Target of surveillance. The Target can have ALL their communications monitored. Contacts only have those communications monitored that are with a designated and authorized Target. The entire NSA-FISA flap was created over the mythology that there were no “Contacts” in the US when it came to overseas communications and terrorists. It was a naive and suicidal blurring of the reality of today’s threats and communications systems. Why would we allow the concept of a “Contact” to be valid inside the US only? Prior to 9-11 the rule was, when it came to international terrorists overseas, there were no “Contacts” - you could not record the number, the location or the contact.
And that resulted in two things: (a) we, in the form of our fellow citizens at the NSA, had detected the 9-11 highjackers here in America, and (b) we deleted the information that would have probably avoided the deaths of 3,000 innocent people just getting on with their lives one sunny day in September, 2001.
Only fools pretend we are not at war with terrorist and that all efforts aimed at terrorists are aimed at these fools. So, who is fear mongering and who is protecting us? Well, since 9-11 there has been no successful attack on the US (here or on our Embassy soil overseas). There have been plenty of attacks, but no successful ones. Fact vs fiction.
Related: Judge Throws Out Wiretap Suit From Suspected Al Qaeda Charity