Cell Phones & Smartphones

New Documents Show Lopsided Reliance on Secret Subpoenas

New Documents Show Lopsided Reliance on Secret Subpoenas

By Kade Crockford, Director, ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project at 12:29pm
What happens when legislatures pass laws enabling law enforcement to obtain sensitive, private information about people without requiring any evidence of criminal activity, and without any outside oversight whatsoever?
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…

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.

The President Reads His Daily Brief on an iPad (and Other Lessons From the NSA)

The President Reads His Daily Brief on an iPad (and Other Lessons From the NSA)

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:10am

(Updated below)

I was invited to give a talk on surveillance at the Information Security Systems Association (ISSA) Baltimore Chapter yesterday, and the keynote speaker was Dr. John Levine of the NSA. He works on the “information assurance”…

Drones: The Nightmare Scenario

Drones: The Nightmare Scenario

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:05pm

In our drones report, we discuss the coming onslaught of domestic drones and the weak state of the privacy laws that should protect us, and we outline our recommendations for protections that Congress and local governments should put in place.

But…

Private Cameras Will Hurt Privacy - But is There a Solution?

Private Cameras Will Hurt Privacy - But is There a Solution?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:09am

The ACLU has long opposed the spread of government video surveillance in American public life. We published this piece, The Four Problems With Public Video Surveillance, way back in February 2002 for example, and we had been saying similar things long…

Even After Supreme Court GPS Decision, Feds Still Want Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking

Even After Supreme Court GPS Decision, Feds Still Want Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking

By Sarah Roberts, Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 8:34pm

Even after January's landmark Supreme Court decision cast significant doubt on the government’s ability to electronically track a person’s location without a warrant, the Justice Department continues to defend this practice. On Friday,…

Massachusetts High Court to Become Latest to Rule on Warrant Requirement for Cell Phone Tracking

Massachusetts High Court to Become Latest to Rule on Warrant Requirement for Cell Phone Tracking

By Kade Crockford, Director, ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project at 3:24pm

Should the police be required to get a warrant in order to monitor our location via our cell phones?

Massachusetts’ highest court is likely to answer this critical question when it rules on Commonwealth vs. Shabazz Augustine. The ACLU is…

Following Texas’s Lead on Location Tracking

Following Texas’s Lead on Location Tracking

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 4:21pm

Yesterday, the Texas House of Representatives passed the first bill in the nation that would require law enforcement to obtain a probable cause warrant before tracking individuals’ location by collecting their cell phone location data. As Rebecca…

The Results From Our Nationwide Cell Phone Tracking Records Requests

The Results From Our Nationwide Cell Phone Tracking Records Requests

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 1:38pm

The ACLU has released the results of our public records requests to hundreds of police departments asking about their cell phone tracking policies. What we have learned is disturbing.

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