Friday, April 24, 2009

Former Bush US Attorney Approved Warrantless Tracking of Cell Phones

Every time I try to take a break from the "illegal wiretapping and gross violations of privacy" issue it pulls me back in. But, since this is an issue that lies at the intersection of civil liberties and technology - a primary focus of this blog - I am left no choice.

So, we've got yet more information to add to this ever evolving understanding of just how widespread, invasive, and unconstitutional the government's usage of surveillance and eavesdropping on ordinary Americans has been.

Check out my recent posts for everything you need to know about recent revelations regarding Rep. Jane Harman, AIPAC, Alberto Gonzales, and the warrantless wiretapping program. If that sounds like a set up for an Oliver Stone film it just might be some day.

Then today I read in the Washington Post this little addendum to my "birth of a surveillance society" narrative. While serving as a U.S. attorney during the Bush administration, Christopher Christie tracked the whereabouts of citizens through their cell phones without warrants.

The ACLU - and great thanks again to them for their continued outstanding work - obtained the documents detailing the spying program from the Justice Department in an ongoing lawsuit over cell phone tracking. While the documents reveal 79 such cases on or after Sept. 12, 2001, they do not specify how many of the applications were made during Christie's tenure.

The new revelations about the cell phone tracking program under Christie is yet another example of the warrantless spying programs authorized under the Bush administration.

And as the Center for American Progress noted, "Previous programs approved without a court order or warrant have included the secret program to monitor radiation levels at over 100 Muslim sites and the National Security Agency spying program on the phone and e-mail communications of thousands of people inside the U.S."

The Washington Post reports:

Tracking without a warrant disregards an internal U.S. Justice Department recommendation that prosecutors obtain probable cause warrants before gathering location data from cell phones. Using a little-known GPS chip inside a cell phone, federal prosecutors can locate a person to within about 30 feet. They're also able to gather less exact location data by tracing mobile phone signals as they ping off cell towers.


Of the cases in which probable cause wasn't established, 19 allowed the most precise tracking available, the documents show. Those cases occurred after the November 2007 Justice Department recommendation that prosecutors seek warrants. Christie said he changed the policy to comply with Washington's recommendation 11 months later.


The documents released by the ACLU show that of states randomly sampled, New Jersey and Florida used GPS tracking without obtaining probable cause warrants. Four other states _ California, Louisiana, Indiana, Nevada, and the District of Columbia reported having obtained GPS data only after showing probable cause.


The documents are part of an ongoing lawsuit by the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation on how the government tracks cell phone users. The ACLU sought documents under the Freedom of Information Act to learn about the tracking because the cases are typically under court seal, ACLU lawyer Catherine Crump said. Crump argued in court papers that government tracking without a probable cause warrant is a violation of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable search and seizure. Government prosecutors have argued that only a court order showing the tracking data is relevant to a criminal investigation is needed.

Obviously I would really like to know more about those specific cases in which probable cause was not established and the tracking was done without warrants. We have seen too many examples of this Administration using surveillance technologies not to actually protect Americans or "fight terrorism", but rather to stifle dissent, monitor political "enemies" (i.e. peace protesters, environmentalists, Democrats, etc.) and even eavesdrop on journalists. I am eager to find out who some of these cell phone users were and why they were tracked without a warrant?

I will keep you posted. Click here to read the rest of the WP article.

No comments: