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WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a lawsuit today urging a federal court to order the Department of Justice (DOJ) to turn over records related to the government's use of people's cell phones as tracking devices. The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the records in November 2007 following revelations that federal officials are using Americans' cell phones to pinpoint their locations, sometimes without a warrant or any court oversight. The DOJ has failed to release the documents or provide an adequate response to the request.
"This is a critical opportunity to shed much-needed light on possibly unconstitutional government surveillance techniques," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU and lead attorney on the case. "Signing up for cell phone services should not be synonymous with signing up to be spied on and tracked by the government."
The ACLU submitted the FOIA request to the DOJ after media reports revealed that some government officials claim not to need probable cause to obtain real-time tracking information from people's cell phones. The reports also suggested that some federal law enforcement agents have obtained tracking data directly from mobile phone service providers without any court oversight.
The request for information includes documents, memos and guides regarding the policies and procedures for tracking individuals through the use of their cell phones, as well as information about the number of times the government has applied for cell phone location information without establishing probable cause and how many times it has been granted.
"The public has an overwhelming interest in the requested information, which concerns our most personal communications," said David L. Sobel, EFF Senior Counsel and co-counsel on the case. "But remarkably, the Justice Department refused to respond quickly to the request, as the law requires when 'urgent' information is at issue. Further delay will allow important privacy policies to be developed behind closed doors."
Attorneys on the case are Crump, Sobel and Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.
The complaint is available online at: www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/35873lgl20080701.html
The ACLU's FOIA request can be found online at: www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/32893res20071129.html