Cell Phones & Smartphones

The Vast, Troubling Call Database Drug Agents Use to Identify Burner Phones

The Vast, Troubling Call Database Drug Agents Use to Identify Burner Phones

By Catherine Crump, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 4:43pm

This week the New York Times revealed the Hemisphere Project, in which the government is paying AT&T for access to an enormous phone records database. While some aspects of the program are unclear, we now know that the government has long collaborated with AT&T to conduct sophisticated data-mining of sensitive telephone records, primarily to identify “burner” phones.

Federal Appeals Court Rules the Government Can Track Your Cell Phone Without a Warrant

Federal Appeals Court Rules the Government Can Track Your Cell Phone Without a Warrant

By Catherine Crump, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 5:12pm

It has long been our position that the government must obtain a warrant based on probable cause before engaging in surveillance of people's historical cell phone location information. Today, our efforts were dealt a setback. Over a strong dissent,…

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…

ACLU Challenges 67 Days of Warrantless Cell Phone Location Tracking

ACLU Challenges 67 Days of Warrantless Cell Phone Location Tracking

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:55am

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals may soon decide whether police need a warrant to track the location of your cell phone over the course of days or weeks. The case, United States v. Davis, involves a warrantless police request for four people's…

AT&T Wants Us to Pay Them With Our Money And Our Privacy – How to Opt Out

AT&T Wants Us to Pay Them With Our Money And Our Privacy – How to Opt Out

By Nicole Ozer, Technology & Civil Liberties Policy Director, ACLU of Northern California at 5:43pm

I received an email from AT&T today. Did you? It turns out that AT&T is revising its privacy policy to make it “easier to understand” and by the way, also to let us know that they want us to pay them with our money and our privacy, too.…

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.

Fighting a Striking Case of Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking

Fighting a Striking Case of Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking

By Bennett Stein, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 4:16pm

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is currently considering a case that could be pivotal in determining whether the government needs a warrant to track your cell phone. Today the ACLU, together with the ACLU of Maryland, Center for Democracy &…

First in the Nation: Montana Requires a Warrant for Location Tracking

First in the Nation: Montana Requires a Warrant for Location Tracking

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 10:15am

Montana just made history. It recently enacted the first state law in the nation (sponsored by Rep. Daniel Zolnikov (R-Billings)) requiring...

Who Decides?

Who Decides?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:32am

I’d like to make one major point about the NSA surveillance scandal that many people have made indirectly, or implicitly, or seem to have assumed, but have not stated baldly and explicitly. That point is how this incident has laid bare the arrogance of our national security officials.

Because there are really two separate issues behind last week’s revelations. The first is, how much surveillance of the American people should the government conduct? The second is, who should decide how much surveillance of the American people the government should conduct?

And on that second question, the government has arrogated to itself the power to make that decision, unilaterally, in secret, on behalf of the American people.

In his only comments on this scandal, President Obama said,

ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging NSA's Patriot Act Phone Surveillance

ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging NSA's Patriot Act Phone Surveillance

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 3:30pm

In the wake of the past week's revelations about the NSA's unprecedented mass surveillance of phone calls, today the ACLU filed a lawsuit charging that the program violates Americans' constitutional rights of free speech, association, and privacy.

This…

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