“Federal Judge: Only Powered-Off Cell Phones Deserve Privacy Protections”

May 15, 2013

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on May 15, 2013 released the following:

“By Chris Soghoian, Principal Technologist and Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 11:27am

A federal magistrate judge in New York recently ruled that cell phone location data deserves no protection under the Fourth Amendment and that accordingly, the government can engage in real-time location surveillance without a search warrant. In an opinion straight from the Twilight Zone, magistrate judge Gary Brown ruled two weeks ago that “cell phone users who fail to turn off their cell phones do not exhibit an expectation of privacy.”

The case in question involved a physician who the DEA believed had issued thousands of prescriptions for pain killers in exchange for cash. In March of this year, the DEA had obtained a warrant for his arrest, and, not knowing where he was, sought an order from magistrate judge Brown forcing the phone company to provide real-time data identifying the location of the physician’s phone.

Although the DEA agents requested a search warrant and the judge found that there was probable cause to believe that the cell phone location data would assist in the location and apprehension of an individual for whom there was already a valid arrest warrant, the judge later published a 30-page opinion further stating that he didn’t think the government needed to seek a search warrant in the first place.

Don’t Want the Government Tracking You? Turn Your Phone Off

In his puzzling opinion, the judge squarely criticizes people naive enough to expect privacy while also leaving their cell phones on when they’re not using them.

    “Given the ubiquity and celebrity of geolocation technologies, an individual has no legitimate expectation of privacy in the prospective location of a cellular telephone where that individual has failed to protect his privacy by taking the simple expedient of powering it off.

    As to control by the user, all of the known tracking technologies may be defeated by merely turning off the phone. Indeed—excluding apathy or inattention—the only reason that users leave cell phones turned on is so that the device can be located to receive calls. Conversely, individuals who do not want to be disturbed by unwanted telephone calls at a particular time or place simply turn their phones off, knowing that they cannot be located.”

The Catch-22 here is that the only people who the judge believes would have any reasonable expectation of privacy are those whose phones are turned off (and thus, not generating any location data that the government could access, even with a warrant). And it ignores the necessity of keeping your cell phone turned on for communicating with family or for work.

That consumers are dumb enough to willingly share their location using the “Girls Around Me” app (which the judge specifically calls out by name, although the wrong one), only further justifies covert, warrantless government surveillance:

    “Given the notoriety surrounding the disclosure of geolocation data to retailers purveying soap powder and blue jeans to mall shoppers, the police searching for David Pogue’s iPhone and, most alarmingly, the creators and users of the Girls Around You app, cell phone users cannot realistically entertain the notion that such information would (or should) be withheld from federal law enforcement agents searching for a fugitive.”

This is, in a word, ridiculous. There is a big difference between location information you knowingly share with a select group of friends (or, in fact, the world) and information collected about you without your knowledge or consent. Someone might be happy to share their location with a few friends by “checking in” using Foursquare while at a music festival, but not want law enforcement to access that same information. And, they would still reasonably expect that their location a week later while at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or abortion clinic should remain private. Sharing location data isn’t and shouldn’t be all or nothing.

We are also baffled by the judge’s willingness to tie a reasonable expectation of privacy to the use of a cell phone power button. We’re not sure if the judge has watched the Onion’s spoof news video describing a fictional “Google Opt Out Village” for people who don’t want to be tracked by the advertising company, but the logic in his opinion is consistent with the absurdity of that spoof. If you don’t want Google to track you, stop using all modern technology and move to a remote village. If you don’t want the government to covertly track your phone, turn it off and leave it off. What could be simpler, right?”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Wireless Carriers Who Aid Police Are Asked for Data

May 3, 2012

The New York Times on May 2, 2012 released the following:

“By ERIC LICHTBLAU

WASHINGTON — A leading House Democrat is demanding information from the country’s biggest cellphone companies about their role in helping local police departments conduct surveillance and tracking of suspects and others in criminal investigations.

Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, the co-chairman of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, said in a letter sent Wednesday to eight major wireless carriers that he was “deeply concerned” that routine tracking of cellphone use by law enforcement officials in many departments “may violate the privacy rights of Americans.”

In his letter, Mr. Markey sought data from the cellphone carriers on the number of requests for help they have received from law enforcement officials in cell tracking and surveillance operations, their policies on whether they require the authorities to secure court warrants, the use of cellphone surveillance in nonemergencies, the fees they charge the police and other information.

His letter was prompted by an April 1 article in The New York Times on the routine use of cellphone surveillance by local police departments, even in nonemergency situations. Mr. Markey’s office provided a copy of his letter to The Times.

The move by Mr. Markey puts the cellphone companies in the middle of a protracted public debate over the balance between civil liberties safeguards and the authorities’ use of surveillance technology. The issue has received renewed public attention recently as a result of a Supreme Court ruling in January finding that police use of a GPS device on a drug suspect’s car without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

CTIA, the wireless industry trade association, said it had no comment on the Congressional request.

Ed McFadden, a spokesman for Verizon, one of the companies from which Mr. Markey is seeking information, said in a statement: “We will review the letter and be responsive. In responding to law enforcement requests, Verizon Wireless follows the law.”

An AT&T spokesman, Michael Balmoris, said, “We received the congressman’s letter and will respond accordingly.”

Representative Joe L. Barton, the Texas Republican who is co-chairman of the House privacy caucus with Mr. Markey, did not respond to requests for comment.

The privacy caucus has no formal subpoena power to gather records. But an official with the caucus who spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing internal matters said that private companies had normally complied with requests from the caucus and that Mr. Markey was confident that the cell companies would give him the information he was seeking.

Politicians and lawyers on both sides of the surveillance issue have debated where the line should be drawn between giving the authorities the technological tools they need and protecting the privacy of the public. Mr. Markey is seeking information not only on the legal and policy implications of cellphone surveillance, but also on the financial relationship between police departments and phone carriers — an area that has received little public attention.

The Times article, based on 5,500 pages of documents that the American Civil Liberties Union received from 205 police departments, found that cellphone carriers often charged local police departments anywhere from a few hundred dollars for using a cellphone to track a suspect’s location, up to $2,200 for a full-scale wiretap of a suspect.

The documents showed that police departments routinely used cellphone tracking for both emergency and nonemergency situations, sometimes without getting court warrants. With police policies varying widely, gray areas in the law have given departments wide discretion in determining what types of situations justify phone surveillance and whether court orders are needed. Some departments have even bought their own phone surveillance equipment and bypassed the carriers.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.