In a victory for cell phone users everywhere, A court says that the feds need a warrant to request phone data which includes location. We should be celebrating this victory even though it isn’t a total victory. This case will most likely go to the US Supreme Court. The Federal government is not going to give up on this easily. Especially since there have been other rulings that have ruled in favor of warrantless mobile phone tracking. So it’s still unclear what the end result of all of this will be.
Additionally, this may also have implications for some of the other tracking that the government is doing. Apparently, the governments don’t need a warrant to install GPS tracking devices onto cars. Which the police argue saves tax payers money. It raises serious privacy concerns though. What is the limit to the number of people the police can track at a time? Can they simply track anyone closely related to a crime even if they have nothing to do with any sort of crime? With polices officers required to track individuals this puts an obvious limit on the number of people the police and other law enforcement agencies can track. They are limited to the usefulness of the tracking and the number of officers they have available to track. With the GPS tracking they have the ability to simultaneously, continuously track any individual associated with a crime or a suspect of a case. This gives them a huge amount of data on people that may not have done anything illegal and shouldn’t be tracked in the first place.
With this data agencies are able to construct a network of frequent activities for the prime suspect and any other people they consider interesting. If these suspects go to a known drug hide out it can implement additional people in a crime that wouldn’t have been obvious without the tracking. It could allow for an increased ability to crack down on crime. However, it can also send up a great deal of false positives and implement innocents.
Should we be concerned with this type of tracking? Definitely. The purpose of requiring a warrant, in a historical context, is to prevent the government for arbitrarily searching the house of a person. I find the ability to be remotely tracked terrifying. Just because I don’t have any thing to worry about doesn’t mean I’d want the government to have the ability to track me on a whim. I feel it’s important for there to be a check on the law enforcement. I think it’s clear from the UC Davis pepper spray incident that there’s a sense of unlimited power within many of our police forces. Warrantless tracking through cell phones or vehicles are incredibly similar.
The job of the court and our constitution is to protect the people from the excesses of the government through the actions of law enforcement. We need to work with our legislation to push for laws to address these issues if the courts don’t make the action in the manner to protect the fourth amendment and our privacy.