Obama is watching YOU!
Police need not uphold the traditional Fourth Amendment standard of “probable cause” in the process of an investigation in order to access to citizens' mobile phone location data, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
From CNet: “In this case, the Obama administration has argued that warrantless tracking is permissible because Americans enjoy no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their–or at least their cell phones'–whereabouts. U.S. Department of Justice lawyers have said that “a customer's Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals to the government its own records” that show where a mobile device placed and received calls.”
Note that people hanging on to older, non-GPS enabled phones are not invisible, as a cell phone's location is inherently triangulated as multiple cell towers decide which one will handle the call at that moment. Also, by combining the cell tower triangulation and gps data provided by all newer phones, locating someone to a precise location is fairly trivial. Both sets of data are kept by the cell companies by law and is now available to law enforcement without warrant. Published papers on the fine granularity of tracking are on the web.
The Obama administration's view was that cell subscribers agree to allow the carrier to share personal data with third parties (and you thought that meant your name and address and perhaps plan level). Therefore, the argument goes, we've agreed to be tracked any time our phones are on (and the court agreed law enforcement should have access when requested). As a cell user, are you okay with this or do you feel this invades your privacy?
While we still have a right to free association and can meet with whomever we please, does this have a chilling effect? At what point will people meeting together in one location become probable cause (or just a good reason) for other police action? Think police raids in recent years on protester meetings and a simple query of, “show me all groupings of more than ten people within two miles of the convention center”.
-Taxpayer money was spent in large amounts many decades ago to bring phone lines to”every rural farmhouse”.
-Due to the progression of phone technology many people no longer have a landline.
-Cell operation is regulated by the FCC (when convenient. Not, apparently when it comes to net neutrality, but that's another topic)
-GPS transmission by phones was put in place by the government, ostensibly for faster 911 response.
-The order for cell companies to store and provide location data for phones was fought for and won by the federal government, originally under warrant only, though that was weakened by the patriot act(s).
Is the water getting warmer or is it just me? At what point is having a cell phone a necessity in our society, a part of the basic infrastructure? What effect does this have on the relationship between citizens and their government?
(CNet quote excerpted from: http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20015743-281.html)
(more here: http://www.newsweek.com/2010/02/18/the-snitch-in-your-pocket.html)
(decision pdf: http://www.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/084227p.pdf)