DOJ Uses Congressional Hearings About Protecting Mobile Privacy To Suggest Mobile Users Deserve Less Privacy

from the we-want-to-track-you dept

With all the reports lately about mobile devices tracking people's whereabouts, Congress (of course) sprung into action to hold grandstanding sessions hearings about protecting privacy on mobile devices. The official title of the hearing was: "Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy." So, it would be natural to expect that most people would talk about protecting privacy on mobile devices. However, one participant went in the opposite direction. Jason Weinstein, the deputy assistant attorney general for the criminal division, decided that the answer to protecting mobile privacy was to make sure there's less mobile privacy... as far as government snoops are concerned.

That is, he used the hearings to suggest a new Justice Department proposal that would require mobile phone operators to collect even more data from their customers than they do already. Yeah, this seems to be the exact opposite of the point of this particular discussion. Of course, our own Derek Kerton has been making this point repeatedly in our comments in the various discussions about Apple and Google tracking locations... and the government grandstanding about it: the government requires that mobile operators track much of this data. And what Weinstein was pitching was that they should track even more of it.

Of course, Weinstein uses the same old excuse for why everyone should have less privacy -- to make his job easier:
Weinstein said, "when this information is not stored, it may be impossible for law enforcement to collect essential evidence.... Many wireless providers do not retain records that would enable law enforcement to identify a suspect's smartphone based on the IP addresses collected by Web sites that the suspect visited."
But, of course, that totally misses the point. We have protections from government for a reason. There is no right for law enforcement's job to be easy. In fact, the rights go in the other direction. Individuals have a right of privacy from the government because we, as a society, supposedly decided that such rights were more important than an all-powerful government. That's what we thought the 4th Amendment was about, but I understand that's been excised from the document lately...


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    DannyB (profile), May 11th, 2011 @ 6:01am

    Police work is easy in a police state

    When citizens have rights and things like that pesky 4th amendment, police work is more difficult.

     

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    Jim Harper (profile), May 11th, 2011 @ 6:07am

    There are more ways this hearing went off the rails...

     

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    John Doe, May 11th, 2011 @ 6:11am

    Another post about a sacred right

    Normally I agree with most of what you say, and I do agree with this post. But not to beat a dead horse here, but this proves the point I made on your article about pediatricians talking to children about guns. You beat the drum of constitutional rights when you like the right in question and ignore the rights you don't like.

    The thing with rights is you can give up the ones you don't like and keep the ones you do. So don't own a gun if you don't want one, but don't advocate the infringement on my right to own one.

    Ok, I have had my say and will stop now. :)

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2011 @ 6:54am

      Re: Another post about a sacred right

      Wah? The Florida law regarding regulating pediatricians (and other physicians) has nothing at all to do with the rights to own guns. The right in questiont here is the right of physicians to speak to their patients, not the rights of the patients (or anyone else) to do something.

      So it's not a question of whether Mike "likes" the rights that you do. I think you both probably "like" the 1st Amendment a whole lot.

      That said, Mike seems to like the 4th Amendment so much that he seems sometimes to start thinking the 4th Amendment is a blanket prohibition against the government's obtaining any information. Put it this way - if the courts were to decide the Mike prefers on issues like subscriber information and cell tower location data (i.e. that it requires a search warrant to obtain), then I'm not sure how he could object on 4th Amendment grounds to requiring providers to keep certain data for a certain amount of time.

       

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        Chronno S. Trigger (profile), May 11th, 2011 @ 8:26am

        Re: Re: Another post about a sacred right

        "then I'm not sure how he could object on 4th Amendment grounds to requiring providers to keep certain data for a certain amount of time."

        Because the 4th amendment is about unreasonable searches and seizures. Requiring a third party to retain more information for the exclusive reason of allowing the government to come in and take it when they want is a violation of the 4th amendment. Even if the court orders the retention of the information it doesn't make it any less of a violation.

         

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        Jordan (profile), May 11th, 2011 @ 10:36am

        Re: Re: Another post about a sacred right

        Maybe because the government is ignoring the whole "get a warrant" part lately?

         

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        Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2011 @ 4:15pm

        Re: Re: Another post about a sacred right

        I like where you're going with this, but I think you may be off point a little...

        I don't see how you can object to Mike's objection to laws created upon 4th Amendment grounds which would require providers to retain certain data for a certain amount of time. Especially if you love the 4th Amendement as much as you seem to.

        There should never be any laws requiring cooporations to retain any data on it's users. Stored user data should be completely decided by the individual user. If I don't want google storing my data, I should be allowed to click a button that makes it so. If anything, that's where the 4th Amendment should be guiding us.

         

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      Steve, May 11th, 2011 @ 11:39am

      Re: Another post about a sacred right

      HUH?

      How the heck do you equate a doctor talking to you about gun safety (alongside pool safety, and car seats) to the government wanting to track and store all of your activities?

      Let me try it... If the government takes away women's abortion rights they'll take away my right to own guns!!!

       

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      Mike Masnick (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 12:55am

      Re: Another post about a sacred right

      The thing with rights is you can give up the ones you don't like and keep the ones you do. So don't own a gun if you don't want one, but don't advocate the infringement on my right to own one.

      Huh? When did I ever advocate infringing on your rights to own a gun?!?

      The post in question was about free speech rights, not gun rights.

       

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    Spaceboy (profile), May 11th, 2011 @ 6:17am

    But don't the criminals already know to take the batteries out of their phones or just use cheap disposable phones?

     

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      E. Zachary Knight (profile), May 11th, 2011 @ 6:54am

      Re:

      Exactly. Criminals are smart enough to use means that are not easily tracked to help them plan and commit crimes.

      If the DOJ wants to make law enforcement easier, they need to ban burn phones and make it legally required that everyone in the world sign 2 year contracts with cell carriers and get smart phones equipped with GPS tracking.

       

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        Derek Kerton (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 3:11am

        Re: Re:

        I travel a fair bit, and this has happened in many countries.

        In many places, you need to present your Passport, copies of same, and a local address to get a local SIM card for your phone. India, for example.

        In other places, you need a local address and a "citizen number" like a social security number. I had trouble getting a SIM card in Spain, so my Spanish friend had to buy it for me as it were for him.

        You know...for safety. @#$@# convenience and the incredible power of communication for the 99% of law-abiding people that just want to talk and carry on commerce. There're terists out thar!

        Of course, the end result is, this does little to stop terrorists, much to interfere with life, and offers a sweet sweet treat of privacy invading data collection for someone.

         

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      John Doe, May 11th, 2011 @ 7:05am

      Re:

      This is the crux of the problem with law enforcement and IP enforcement. All the prohibitions, technical barriers and tracking in the world only affects the honest citizen/consumer. Criminals and pirates already have work arounds so it doesn't even slow them down. In the end, the government is just inhibiting honest people like IP creators inhibit honest consumers.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2011 @ 8:03am

    At this point I want "criminals" to succeed if it means that I keep my freedoms. I'm willing to take the risk.

     

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      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), May 11th, 2011 @ 8:30am

      Re:

      I'm with AC.

      What a lot of people don't see here is that even if removing our freedoms does decrease the risk, it increases risk in other places. Magically you're less likely to get robbed, but now you risk an unscrupulous government agent stealing your identity, or worse.

      Yeah, I'm with AC. I'll keep the risk as long as I can keep my freedoms.

       

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    AndyD273 (profile), May 11th, 2011 @ 8:46am

    Dumb criminals

    This will only really effect the dumb crooks.
    Say I want to burgle someone. I pay cash for a burn phone, or go old school and go without for a while, leave my iPhone/Android at home, or give it to a friend to carry for the night, go do whatever, then when the cops come asking around I just say I was home/with Billy, and my phone data backs me up.
    A step further and give billy a credit card too, tell him to have dinner on me, just make sure you order two plates, or take another friend about my build, and if anyone asks it was me.

     

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    Jay (profile), May 11th, 2011 @ 8:58am

    Hold the phone

    What about what John Morton had to say in regards to the retention?

    Link

     

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    Josh (profile), May 11th, 2011 @ 10:18am

    This affects more than enforcement

    I realize that most of the time we look at these data retention policies in terms of what law enforcement gains access to, but there is much more the the issue than that. In addition to having to worry about the government tracking its citizens by requesting whatever data is being stored there is always the issue of hackers getting a hold of the same information.

    We've already seen that many internet based services have issues protecting whatever data they are storing and I would not be surprised to hear ISPs and mobile service providers have similar problems. If these servers are forced to store more data it makes them a better target for data mining operations to be used for all kinds of scams, id theft, etc.

    If the government forces service providers to store data so that they can track you down then the information is being stored such that anyone can track you down.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2011 @ 10:12pm

    Hey. Why do you get to use the strike through feature and we can't? ;)

     

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