White House Says Feds Should Have Unfettered Access To Mobile Phone Location Info

from the *sigh* dept

Many civil libertarians were hopeful that the Obama administration would be a lot more reasonable on certain issues, like warrantless wiretapping and surveillance of Americans. So far, that hasn't really been the case. The new administration has already sided with the old on the legality of warrantless wiretapping, and is now saying that it shouldn't need a warrant to demand location records from mobile phone providers. This certainly seems like the sort of private info that, under the 4th Amendment, would require a warrant, but not according to the administration(s). It feels that mobile phone providers should freely hand over records of what mobile phone tower any phone was connected to, even without the administration bothering to get a warrant (i.e., whenever and for whomever it wants to keep tabs on). This is tremendously problematic if you believe in the basic principles of the 4th Amendment. The EFF and the ACLU have asked a court to stop this practice, and it's rather disappointing that the administration is pushing in the other direction.

Filed Under: 4th amendment, civil liberties, location, privacy, white house

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  1. identicon
    pmp888, 19 Mar 2009 @ 7:41am

    Aw, come on Mike, you're smarter than this - it may "seem" like the sort of information the 4thAm would require a warrant to obtain, but you don't need to exaggerate what's actually being argued here. While it's worth debating what the proper standard should be for getting cell phone location data (whether it be tower info, or much more precise GPS information) from a mobile provider, the question of whether the 4th Amendment protects this information from disclosure without a warrant is different (and many courts over the years have held it doesn't). Looking at the "bumper beeper" cases, they don't find 4thAm interests implicated where the tracking is in public space; tower info is so imprecise that it really can't pinpoint your location in private areas. There's also a long line of cases finding that the 4thAm generally doesn't prohibit disclosure of information you've either handed over to third parties, or which was generated by the third party about you. Finally, it's worth noting that the issue here isn't between requiring a search warrant and having no standards, but rather, whether some other type of court order will suffice to obtain these records.

    I don't mean to suggest that it's not worth debating what the standards ought to be for getting this information - it is - but then perhaps it would be worth a longer Techdirt post explaining why this information ought to be given greater protection than it has in the past.

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