Federal Court Rules: Your Cell Phone is a Gov Tracking Device
August 1, 2013
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that since customers give up private information to their cell phone companies, which are a 3rd party, this data is public knowledge and not protected under privacy laws.
This decision is based on the third-party doctrine that is a “legal concept established by a set of court decisions over decades that treats records held by a “third-party” as not subject to the same level of protection as say, the private journal you keep in a locked file cabinet in your home.”
In the decision, the judges wrote: “We understand the cell phone users may reasonably want their location information to remain private … But the recourse for these desires is in the market or the political process: in demanding that service providers do away with such records … or in lobbying elected representatives to enact statutory protections. The Fourth Amendment, safeguarded by the courts, protects only reasonable expectations of privacy.”
The ruling stated in part that the 4th Amendment is not applicable to information provided to cell phone companies in exchange for the “use of their phones . . . is entirely voluntary.”
Representative of the federal government asserted during the case proceedings that historical cell-site data created and kept by a cell phone corporation is part of the ordinary course of business and it would be reasonable that those records would be “specific and articulable facts”.
Seeking that information for relevance and materials necessary to an “on-going criminal investigation”, the search and seizure of phone records of Americans which turns their cell phones into surveillance devices, is reasonable and not a violation of the 4th Amendment.
According to the federal court, the distinction is that the customer gave up their private information to the cell phone corporation.
This allows records held by a “third-party” as not subject to the same level of protection as other aspects of American life that is protected by the US Constitution.
Just prior to this landmark decision, the Supreme Court in New Jersey third-party ruled that “cell phones are not meant to serve as tracking devices to locate their owners wherever they may be.”
Judges have the right to demand warrants, according to a recent ruling in the 3rd Dirstrict Court of Appeals. This would put a damper on persons convicted of crimes based on location data provided by cell phone corporations to law enforcement, pinging data and trunk identifiers.
To date, the US Supreme Court has not ruled on this matter.
In the 5th Circuit Court, GPS data provided is distinguished from a US Supreme Court ruling that found the act of installing GPS tracking devices on a target’s vehicle was the same as a search that required a warrant.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) remarked that “the government should not be able to access this personal, sensitive information without getting a warrant based on probable cause.”
Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the ACLU stated : “This ruling fails to recognize that Americans do in fact have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their cell phone location information. Where you go can reveal a great deal about your life, and people don’t think that carrying a cell phone around means that someone can get a detailed record of their movement for days or even months on end. The government should not be able to access this personal, sensitive information without getting a warrant based on probable cause. Unfortunately, the 5th Circuit’s decision allows exactly that.”
On Capitol Hill, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (NI) declassified documents that have been brought to congressional committee hearings in the “interest of increased transparency.”
These docuemtns record events from 2009 – 2011 involving the National Security Agency (NSA) Bulk Collection Program (BCP) that is sanctioned under the US Patriot Act of 2001.
The BCP is another name for the PRISM program.
As far back as 2007, the federal government has been data mining from tech corporations such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Youtube, Aol, Paltalk and Skype.
PRISM was created during the George W. Bush presidential administration and has expanded further by President Obama.
The Protect America Act of 2007 gave private corporations immunity.
PRISM collaborated with Microsoft first and conducted surveillance operations under the guise of searching for terrorist activity or cyber espionage.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the National Security Agency (NSA) have been acquiring “extracting audio, video, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.”
In June, James Clapper, director of National Intelligence recently stated : “Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats. The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.”
Clapper divulged that he declassified documents to be released to the public to quell the outrage over being spied on by federal agencies.
In order to save face, Clapper admitted that because of the leak, sensitive operations were compromised and a misconception about the program was established.
It was stated that the federal government was severely limited in their data collecting capabilities and no intimate details of phone conversations were recorded or stored.
In an attempt to monitor potential terrorist activity, this telephony metadata was syphoned.
An anonymous senior official for the Obama administration confirmed that the executive branch had full oversight and knew about the surveillance on American citizens.
The anonymous source said: “It involves extensive procedures, specifically approved by the court, to ensure that only non-US persons outside the US are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about US persons. The government may only use Section 702 to acquire foreign intelligence information, which is specifically, and narrowly, defined in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This requirement applies across the board, regardless of the nationality of the target.”