Cell Phones & Smartphones

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Protect our Privacy – Protect our Metadata

By Chris Conley, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California Technology and Civil Liberties Project at 10:05am
Imagine bringing a date home for dinner. You put the laptop away and mute your phone. You prepare a gourmet home-cooked meal for two, queue up a selection of romantic songs and pick out a movie to watch after dinner. As the evening winds down, your heart races a bit as you go in for a kiss and wonder how your night will end.
Mobile Phone Surveillance by the Numbers

Mobile Phone Surveillance by the Numbers

By Chris Calabrese, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 10:56am

Wow.  Sometimes one word says it all.  The New York Times reports that in response to letters from Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), mobile phone providers disclosed that they received approximately 1.3 million law enforcement…

New Location Tracking Video Released

New Location Tracking Video Released

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 2:04pm

Our crack communications staff here at the ACLU have taken the graphical blog post I did on location tracking, and what it might look like in the future, and turned it into a snappy new video.

All of our materials on the various facets of the…

Capability is Driving Policy, Not Just at the NSA But Also in Police Departments

Capability is Driving Policy, Not Just at the NSA But Also in Police Departments

By Catherine Crump, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 11:25am

If you’re concerned about the dragnet nature of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, then you should also pay attention to what your local police department is doing. You may find that the dragnet surveillance happening there has…

Giving Consumers Essential Transparency on Apps

Giving Consumers Essential Transparency on Apps

By Chris Calabrese, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 11:54am

Today the ACLU publicly supported a document that we believe will prove to be an important step forward in providing privacy transparency for mobile applications. After more than a year of negotiation among industry, trade associations and consumer…

In Court Today: Challenging DOJ Secrecy on Use of Warrantless Cell Phone Location Tracking

In Court Today: Challenging DOJ Secrecy on Use of Warrantless Cell Phone Location Tracking

By Bennett Stein, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 10:47am

Way back in 2007, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking information about how and when the government obtains cell phone location data without a warrant. Since then, we have learned that the practice of using cell phones as tracking…

In Court: Uncovering Stingrays, A Troubling New Location Tracking Device

In Court: Uncovering Stingrays, A Troubling New Location Tracking Device

By Linda Lye, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California at 12:42pm

The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation have filed an amicus brief in what will be the first case in the country to address the constitutional implications of a so-called “stingray,” a little known device that can be used to track…

What if the Government Hid Bugs and Video Cameras in Every American Home?

What if the Government Hid Bugs and Video Cameras in Every American Home?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:11am

Top government officials have been defending the NSA’s secret collection of phone records of every American. But the argument they are using today to justify mass surveillance of phone calls could be used to justify ANY amount of intrusion into Americans’ private lives. Imagine, for example, what would happen if it were discovered that the NSA had placed a secret microphone and video camera in the living room and bedroom of every home in America. It’s easy to predict how the government would defend that kind of spying. Here is what they would probably say:

  • The audio and video data collected from Americans’ homes do not constitute “surveillance” because nobody watches or listens to the recordings, unless they obtain a warrant. Actually, not a real warrant, or even a subpoena, but permission through an internal NSA process based on—trust us!—very, very strict criteria. Or in a small number of other very exceptional circumstances.
  • The program has been approved by the chairs of the major congressional intelligence committees, as well as the secret FISA Court.
  • While it’s true that even the sweepingly broad Patriot Act requires that data be “relevant” to an investigation, there has never been a requirement that every piece of data in a dataset that is turned over be relevant, only that the data set be generally relevant . When it comes to the mass of data that we are collecting from people’s homes, we know there is relevant information in there, and if we don’t preserve that data, we won’t be able to find it when we need it.
  • At least 50 acts of terrorism-like crimes have been prevented. We can’t release details of these successes, but they include several people caught building bomb-like objects in their kitchens, two instances in which women who were kidnapped years ago were found being kept prisoner within private homes, and numerous instances of domestic violence.

All of the arguments above are essentially what the NSA’s current defenders have been saying. My point is that there are few limits to the spying that their arguments could be used to justify.

The idea of the NSA secretly visiting every home in America to hide audio and video bugs inside may seem far-fetched, but what they have actually done is not quite as different as it might seem. It was not long ago that in order for the government to collect telephone metadata (all telephone numbers called and received), the authorities had to attach telephone bugs known as “pen register” and “trap and trace” devices to a home’s physical telephone line. Today it no longer needs to do that, but its mass collection of telephone metadata accomplishes the same end through virtual means, and just because the technology makes it possible to carry out such spying through the reshuffling of digital files at telephone central offices, doesn’t mean it’s any less intrusive than if the NSA were to physically attach a bug on the telephone wires outside every home.

If the Government Is Tracking Your Location or Reading Your Email, Would You Ever Know?

If the Government Is Tracking Your Location or Reading Your Email, Would You Ever Know?

By Patrick C. Toomey, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 12:36pm

Court rulings unsealed last week in Washington show for the first time a behind-the-scenes legal battle over when the government should have to tell you that it's tracking your location and reading your email. These documents—which came to light…

Your Cell Phone Knows Where You Were Last Night . . . Who Else Does?

Your Cell Phone Knows Where You Were Last Night . . . Who Else Does?

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 12:36pm

Today, 34 ACLU affiliates are filing 379 public records requests in 31 states around the nation, seeking information about how our local law enforcement agencies are using our cell phone location information to track us.

Chances are you’re…

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