Monday, December 21, 2009

The Colbert Report Hilariously Covers Cell Phone Tracking Scandal

I wanted to provide a little comic interlude for everyone today. Last week I wrote fairly extensively about the rather astonishing news reported that Sprint received 8 million law enforcement requests for GPS location data in the past year alone. Before I get to the video of Stephen Colbert's hilarious take on these recent revelations, TPM has more on the issue in a post entitled "How Easy Is It For The Police To Get GPS Data From Your Phone?":

Police can in some cases track cell phone location by merely telling a court that the information is relevant to an investigation, a legal expert tells TPM - a fact that may partly explain how law enforcement racked up 8 million requests for GPS data from a single wireless carrier in a year. An increasingly popular and easy-to-access surveillance tool for police, GPS data is not currently protected by the Fourth Amendment, and the standards for gaining access to the information are murky and highly variable. That's partly because one of the statutes that bears on the issue was passed in the mid-1980s, before many of the technologies involved were invented. And Congress hasn't done much to update the law since.

Now to the Colbert Report: "If Congress doesn't reauthorize the Patriot Act, America's corporations are ready to step in."

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As I have also recently written here, there are a number of reasons that make this Colbert clip especially relevant.

In just the past few weeks, in addition to discovering that law enforcement made 8 million requests to Sprint for customer GPS data information in a one year period, Facebook reportedly received up to 100 demands each week from the government seeking information about its users, AOL reportedly received 1,000 demands a month, and in 2006, a U.S. Attorney demanded book purchase records of 24,000 customers.

And let's also remember, companies like Google and Yahoo don't make public how often information about their users is demanded or disclosed. The numbers are likely astronomical.

Over the past few years we've also come to learn that millions of Americans have been wiretapped by the government without it having to produce a warrant.

And just last month, the Senate voted to renew some of the most egregious components of the Constitution eviscerating Patriot Act including:

1. Allowing broad warrants to be issued by a secretive court for any type of record, from financial to medical, without the government having to declare that the information sought is connected to a terrorism or espionage investigation.

2. Renewing the so-called “roving wiretap” provision, allowing the FBI to obtain wiretaps from the secret court, known as the FISA court, without identifying the target or what method of communication is to be tapped.

3. Renewing the so-called “lone wolf” measure that allows FISA court warrants for the electronic monitoring of a person for whatever reason — even without showing that the suspect is an agent of a foreign power or a terrorist.

And of course, the government can still essentially break into your house as long as it doesn't tell you it did...may the 4th Amendment rest in peace.

All things considered, I want to give special thanks to Stephen Colbert for bringing both attention to this topic, and some much needed humor.

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