Obama wants to track you

Jus­tice Depart­ment seeks cell­phone lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion -

Con­sumers love their iphones, An­droids and Black­ber­rys. With built in GPS nav­i­ga­tion, these handy lit­tle gad­gets can point the way to the near­est gas sta­tion with a low price or the high­est-rated res­tau­rant within a few blocks. Re­sults can be per­son­al­ized based on the user’s lo­ca­tion at any given mo­ment, a fea­ture so handy that many never leave home with­out their mo­bile.

Un­der fed­eral law, even the most ba­sic cell­phone must col­lect lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion so that 911 ser­vices can respond ap­pro­pri­ately. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion wants the abil­ity to seize this data for its own pur­poses. Last month, the Jus­tice Depart­ment filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the 5th Cir­cuit in­sist­ing the gov­ern­ment had the right to gather 60 days’ worth of track­ing in­for­ma­tion from a cell­phone with­out a war­rant is­sued on prob­a­ble cause.

By claim­ing this de­tailed in­for­ma­tion is rel­e­vant to a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, there would ef­fec­tively be no limit to the state’s abil­ity to know some­one’s ev­ery move. In the case at hand, fed­eral agents sought the travel his­tory of cer­tain cus­tomers of Tmo­bile and Metropcs, but a fed­eral mag­is­trate ruled that the gov­ern­ment’s hunch that these in­di­vid­u­als might be in­volved in crime was good enough to merit re­lease of ba­sic sub­scriber in­for­ma­tion, such as name and ad­dress, but “a higher stan­dard of proof” had to be met be­fore the court would com­pel the re­lease of lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pealed this decision to a dis­trict court, ar­gu­ing the lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion rep­re­sented “third-party busi­ness records” en­ti­tled to no privacy pro­tec­tion what­so­ever. The judge saw this as a clear vi­o­la­tion of the Fourth Amend­ment.

The most trou­bling as­pect of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s pur­suit of this case to the next level is that the Supreme Court has al­ready shot down its ef­fort to al­low war­rant­less in­stal­la­tion of GPS track­ers on au­to­mo­biles. Track­ing a phone po­ten­tially re­veals far more in­for­ma­tion than merely fol­low­ing a car, since the phone usu­ally doesn’t stop at the park­ing space or garage.

Know­ing where an in­di­vid­ual goes over a twom­onth pe­riod paints a very re­veal­ing look at a per­son’s life. The data could ex­pose a per­son’s friends, as­so­ciates, po­lit­i­cal lean­ings, re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tions, hob­bies and even vices like gam­bling. Such a dossier could as eas­ily be mis­used to black­mail po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies as it could be used to crack an or­ga­nized crime ring.

In a free so­ci­ety, gov­ern­ment is not sim­ply en­ti­tled to this in­for­ma­tion. A neu­tral third party de­cides whether law en­force­ment has a real case against the per­son whose privacy would be vi­o­lated.

Un­for­tu­nately, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has too of­ten cho­sen to tram­ple on the right of cit­i­zens to be free from the pry­ing of nosy bu­reau­cratic busy­bod­ies. Pres­i­dent Obama’s lack of lead­er­ship on privacy is most ap­par­ent in the hands-on in­ves­ti­ga­tions con­ducted at airports by the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion. If Congress doesn’t have the courage to step in and tackle this is­sue, the courts should shut the door once and for all on these at­tempts to cre­ate a sur­veil­lance state.

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