Some people seemed strangely relieved in the wake of the NSA spying scandal when Obama said “no one is listening to your phone calls.” First of all, while they are clearly not listening to everyone’s phone calls, they certainly are listening to certain people’s calls and that isn’t acceptable in a free society. Second of all, it’s pretty obvious that the one reason they aren’t listening to everyone’s calls is because it wouldn’t be practical or effective. As Matt Blaze notes in this great article from Wired, the government isn’t primarily tracking metadata rather than content in an attempt to protect privacy, but rather because metadata is the most efficient and effective way in which to spy on and preempt domestic political dissent. From Wired:
We now know that every day, U.S. phone companies quietly send the government a list of who called whom and when — “telephony metadata” — for every call made on their networks, because of a secret order by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. It turns out that this has been going on for seven years (and was even reported by USA Today then); the difference now is that the government — uncharacteristically for such a secret intelligence operation — quickly acknowledged the authenticity of the leaked order and the existence of the metadata collection program.
Should we be worried? At least “nobody is listening to our telephone calls” (so the president himself assured us). People breathed a sigh of relief since first learning of the surveillance because surely there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to such seemingly innocuous information — it’s just metadata, after all. Phew!
With today’s communications technology, is metadata really less revealing than content? Especially when we’re dealing with metadata at the scale that we now know the NSA and FBI are receiving?
Because at such a scale, people’s intuition about the relative invasiveness of content and metadata starts to fail them. Phone records can actually be more revealing than content when someone has as many records and as complete a set of them as the NSA does.
So there are two bills under consideration in the Texas state legislature that could represent a huge victory for champions of privacy against the national surveillance state. As such, we need to spread the word to as many people as possible and provide support to the activists in Texas that are leading the charge. Obama’s ridiculously authoritarian Department of Justice believes that regular citizens have no expectation of privacy if we carry a GPS device on our cellphones. Free human beings beg to differ. From Slate:
According to the Department of Justice, cellphone users can be tracked without a warrant because “no reasonable expectation of privacy” applies to location data. But lawmakers in Texas disagree—and are proposing strict new tracking regulations that could place the state at the forefront of nationwide efforts to rein in government surveillance.
Two identical bills filed at the end of last month in the state House and Senate propose a series of amendments to the Texas code of criminal procedure. The bills, submitted by Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, would in all but exceptional cases require law enforcement agencies to get a search warrant to obtain cellphone location information—whether the phone is being tracked in real-time or retrospectively.
There have been many interesting cases before the Supreme Court as of late, and the most recent one relates to whether or not police have the right to collect someone’s DNA upon arrest. Justice Samuel Alito has called the case “perhaps the most important criminal procedure case that this court has heard in decades.” Given the Obama Administration’s complete contempt for civil liberties and The Constitution, they are siding with the state of Maryland in the case. I am strongly opposed to the collection of DNA upon arrest for various reasons, but the primary one being that when you are arrested you are still presumed innocent. I do not think an arrest (which could be wrongful) should allow the state to collect your genetic information. From Bloomberg:
The U.S. Supreme Court, hearing what one justice said might be the biggest criminal procedure case in decades, considered overturning as many as 29 state and federal laws that allow the collection of DNA samples when a person is arrested.
In an hour-long argument full of rapid-fire questions, the justices debated whether the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches requires officials to wait until a person is convicted.
The ruling in the Maryland case will be the court’s first on the privacy of genetic information and may have implications for other cutting-edge police techniques in the future.
Several justices, including Stephen Breyer and Antonin Scalia, suggested they may cross the ideological lines that often divide the court. Scalia signaled his skepticism toward Maryland’s collection program immediately, scoffing when the state’s lawyer opened her argument by touting the 225 matches and 42 convictions the state had secured.
“I’ll bet you if you conducted a lot of unreasonable searches and seizures, you’d get more convictions, too,” Scalia said. “That proves absolutely nothing.”
Cell phones are tracking devices that make phone calls.
- Jacob Applebaum in this excellent article titled Leave Your Cell Phone at Home
So a recent article from Wired is interesting in that it is an offshoot from the recent judicial ruling that deemed it unconstitutional for police to place a GPS tracking device on someone’s car without a warrant. The Feds weren’t too pleased with that decision so what have they decided to do? They have decided to say that they don’t even need to use the GPS device because your cell phone can simply be used to monitor everywhere you go and clearly they don’t need a warrant for that. Why? Well…
The Obama administration told a federal court Tuesday that the public has no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in cellphone location data, and hence the authorities may obtain documents detailing a person’s movements from wireless carriers without a probable-cause warrant.
“Defendant’s motion to suppress cell-site location records cannot succeed under any theory. To begin with, no reasonable expectation of privacy exists in the routine business records obtained from the wireless carrier in this case, both because they are third-party records and because in any event the cell-site location information obtained here is too imprecise to place a wireless phone inside a constitutionally protected space,” the administration wrote the federal judge presiding over the Jones re-trial.
I mean this is just absurd. Sorry, but of course I assume that some government thug doesn’t have the right to track everywhere I go via my cell phone. The fact that the administration is making this argument seem reasonable just goes to show you how far down the path to tyranny we have gone. Seriously guys, is it really that hard to just get a warrant?
Read the full wired article here.