DC

Warrantless Cell Phone Location Tracking Dealt a Blow by the ACLU

Sep 7, 2011

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has ordered the Department of Justice to comply with the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request relating to cell phone data accessed by the government without a warrant.

DC Warrantless Cell Phone Location Tracking Dealt a Blow by the ACLU

In 2007, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain documents relating to the policies and procedures used by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in obtaining cell phone data as well as other information. Four years later, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the DOJ to hand over records relating to cell phone data accessed by the government without a warrant.

This, of course, is a win for all Americans, whether those who don’t support the ACLU want to believe it or not.

It took a lawsuit, filed by the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to force the government to hand over documents relating to the 2007 FOIA request.

The important thing to remember here is that most Americans support the DOJ’s use of such tactics against terrorism suspects, but as the ACLU noted, we didn’t even know that this form of cell phone surveillance existed before 2007. Americans deserve to know what powers their government has and how they are used.

As the ACLU’s Jay Stanley writes, “U.S. District Judge James Robertson ordered the DOJ to produce the information, at least in cases that ended in a conviction or guilty plea.” The DOJ appealed that ruling, but it was upheld yesterday by U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Still at issue are the documents relating to defendants who weren’t convicted with the help of warrantless cell phone location tracking records.

The ACLU also noted that a related case (United States v. Jones) is heading to the Supreme Court, relating to whether police must first procure a warrant before planting a GPS tracking device on a vehicle. Naturally, the government would argue that this is essential for homeland security, since the acquiring of a warrant to do so requires time—time they do not have in many cases.

The ACLU argues, however, that “If the government wins that case, it will become much harder to prevent it from using our cell phones in the same way.”

And though yesterday’s ruling was only a partial victory, it’s rather nice to see the U.S. government actually functioning. Rather surreal, isn’t it?

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