Is Your Cell Phone Being Used to Track You?

fedspy.gifTwo hundred million Americans carry cell phones, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the ACLU want to know how and when the federal government uses cell-based location services to track people.

On July 1, 2008, the EFF and the ACLU sued the government in federal court in Washington under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to determine the government’s official policies and whether anyone is even following them.

According to a Washington Post article,

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment on the suit. But with respect to cell-tracking data in general, he said, “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.”

Boyd added that “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.”

The complaint asserts otherwise: numerous news reports have indicated that some US attorneys have said they need no probable cause, and some have ignored the warrant process entirely and sought tracking information directly from cell carriers.

And from an article in The New York Times:

“The information now in the public domain suggests that [the DOJ] may be engaging in unauthorized and potentially unconstitutional tracking of individuals through their mobile phones,” the ACLU and EFF said in their complaint. “Information pertaining to the DOJ’s procedures for obtaining real-time tracking information is vital to the public’s understanding of the privacy risks of carrying a mobile phone and of, more generally, the government’s expansive view of its surveillance powers.”

The ACLU filed a request for information on the tracking program, under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, in November, but the DOJ has not yet delivered the documents requested, the group said.

“This is a critical opportunity to shed much-needed light on possibly unconstitutional government surveillance techniques,” Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement. “Signing up for cell phone services should not be synonymous with signing up to be spied on and tracked by the government.”

It is hoped the FOIA will shed light on the matter and at least force consistency with the stated policy of following the US Constitutionand perhaps get adults in our collective employ to acknowledge a simple but important lesson from youth: the ends don’t justify the means.

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