When my sister-in-law recently told me about the Global Positioning System in her new vehicle, I kiddingly harassed her and said that I would never get a GPS because it is a part of the infrastructure of a police state. Her husband stopped me dead in my righteous tracks and reminded me that our cell phones are easily tracked. I mumbled something like, “Yeah, but I like my phone.”
Today The Washington Post reports that federal agents are using cell phones to track suspects. This is no surprise. They should be tracking suspected criminals by any lawful means possible.
The disturbing aspect of the Post story is that judges are issuing warrants without requiring that the agents meet the constitutional standard of probable cause.
In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives.
Such requests run counter to the Justice Department’s internal recommendation that federal prosecutors seek warrants based on probable cause to obtain precise location data in private areas.
That second paragraph is particularly troubling. Here’s a piece from later in the article.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said field attorneys should follow the department’s policy. “We strongly recommend that prosecutors in the field obtain a warrant based on probable cause” to get location data “in a private area not accessible to the public,” he said. “When we become aware of situations where this has not occurred, we contact the field office and discuss the matter.”
When did following the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution become a “recommendation”?
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
For more on this issue, visit the ACLU’s Privacy & Technology page.
Andy in Harrisburg