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Cell Phone Tracking: “No Warrants, Please!”

Written by Gary North on May 10, 2012

The Department of Justice wants to be legally authorized to track anyone, at any time, by means of his cell phone. The DoJ adamantly resists the suggestion that a judge should be required to issue a warrant in order for the DoJ to do this.

Jason Weinstein, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s criminal division, told a panel at the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee’s “State of the Mobile Net” conference yesterday that requiring a search warrant to obtain location tracking information from cell phones  would “cripple” prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

The economist says this: “When the price of something falls, more will be demanded.” Removing the warrant requirement dramatically lowers the cost. To allow the government to track cell phone location without a warrant will increase the amount of tracking.

The entire population could be tracked 24×7 if technology costs fall far enough. You know they will fall. So does the Department of Justice.

There is something called the Stored Communications Act, which “authorizes the disclosure of cell phone location data with a lesser showing than the probable cause requirement demanded by a search warrant.”

Fortunately, the Supreme Court has announced restrictions of this. In the case  United States v. Jones, the Court said that the warrantless attachment of a GPS device on a car violated the Fourth Amendment’s right to be free from unreasonable government searches.

There is now a case in which the government’s right to monitor cell phone location should be limited to warrant-authorized tracking. All jurisdictions should be bound by this rule.

Noting that Jones requires a warrant for GPS data, but that courts have reached conflicting opinions on whether a search warrant is necessary for cell phone location tracking records that are held by wireless company providers, he rightfully noted “there really is no fairness and no justice when the law applies differently to different people depending on which courthouse you’re sitting in.” But unfortunately, the DOJ’s solution for this problem is for Congress to say that cell phone location tracking records held by third parties — typically the cell phone providers — are not subject to the search warrant’s probable cause requirement, as it would “cripple” law enforcement. To be clear, despite Weinstein’s comments that he’s only speaking for himself, DOJ’s explicit position is that no warrant is necessary, as that’s what they’ve consistently toldcourts, including the Fifth Circuit.

The problem with the DOJ’s position is that it fails to take into account privacy. The only way to ensure “fairness” and “justice,” is to demand that our Fourth Amendment rights not be violated by law enforcement working closely with cell phone providers to access your location information without your knowledge. We’ve already seen that despite the ruling in Jones, law enforcement and the wireless industry are finding ways to continue their pre-Jones practices of warrantless surveillance amid a stunning lack of transparency.

The cost of snooping will fall. The best way to prevent an increase of snooping by the government is to impose the Constitutional requirement that a warrant be issued before this snooping can lawfully begin.

The executive branch of the government is relentless in taking away our liberties. We can only hope that the judicial branch will place more limits on this. The legislative branch could stop it by cutting back on spending. There is little hope in this regard.

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9 thoughts on “Cell Phone Tracking: “No Warrants, Please!”

  1. this is a free country not france russia leave are RIGHTS ALONE before the people deside we don't need washington any more

  2. sean murry says:

    This is a free country some would like us to be Russia.

  3. Hotnike says:

    Stop using cell phones. Think back to when there were no cell phones. Was life really so bad back then. Sometimes it is GOOD to go back to the "GOOD OLD DAYS".

  4. Calling George Orwell…………………
    Tell the government to get the HELL out of our lives.

  5. ssh49tn says:

    And, just where are all the LIBERALS who pitched fits all over the place over Bush's admin getting cell phone records from companies without warrants? Liberals seem to only protest something when it comes from the conservative side.

  6. Just another reason for them to invade our privacy! Every single time they have said it would never be used against you, it has always ended up being used against you.
    Our constitutional rights, and liberties have been eroded over the years to give the federal government access to our personal lives! This has to stop, enough is enough!

  7. Communists like Obama, Holder, and the rest of his cabinet don't need judges, warrants, legislatures, or appeals courts. If you're really dangerous to their political ideas, they just want to shoot you down in the street.. If they can't hit you, they'll give guns to Mexican drug lords who can.

  8. Grandpa says:

    is there really much of a difference between cell phone tracking and web site tracking? They both electronically tell where we have been

  9. This is not good. But hotnike has a good idea. Get rid of your gps tracking smart phone. They are nice, convenient, and EXPENSIVE. Why pay 90$+ a month so the DOJ can track you? Sell your cell phone to see how good it feels.