Thursday, July 3, 2008

Do feds track cell users illegally?

The ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the Justice Dept. Tuesday for information regarding the use of cellphones as tracking devices. The Washington Post reports that the ACLU had filed, back in November, a Freedom of Information Act request for documents, memos and guidelines on tracking cellphone users.

The groups suspect the government seeks the information without following the Fourth Amendment requirement that it establish probable cause of a crime.

No information was forthcoming, so this suit is an attempt to shake lose the info. The DOJ responded this way:

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. . . . Law enforcement has absolutely no interest in tracking the locations of law-abiding citizens. 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.

An article in the Post last fall revealed that the government routinely asks courts to OK the release of real-time tracking data. As the spokeman said, they “go through the courts.” The issue here apparently is not that they don’t “go” to the courts but whether they show up with inadequate proof of the need for the information and whether the courts rubber-stamp these requests.

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