The tracking and collection of data from personal cell phones have received its fair share of examination from the Courts for a while now. Not everyone considers the monitoring of favorable, especially for those wishing to uphold privacy and the Fourth Amendment protections.
Sometime back in 2015, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the police. According to the ruling, police do not require warrants to track the cellphones of individuals suspected of committing a felony. This judgment by the court reversed an earlier decision in a court hearing on privacy.
To obtain an order from the Court, the prosecutors were not required to acquire a search warrant with supporting claims of probable cause. They just needed to prove that the data collected from the T-Mobile prepaid wireless service was significant to their investigations.
In making the ruling, the full Court said that it had weighed the extent to which the collection of location data interfered with people’s privacy and the government’s interest of the in acquiring them.
It has also been reported that the CIA has worked in conjunction with the Justice Department, especially the U.S. Marshalls, to come up with a device called “dirt box” which tricks cellphones into imitating cell towers, hence causes them to transmit your registration data to the law enforcement authorities.
As a matter of fact, there are many cases where law enforcement does not get warrants before using such devices. Sometimes referred to as “IMSI catcher,” to obtain cellphone information. The agencies using such devices include the U.S. Marshalls, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI with each enforcement agency having its regulations and procedures using them.
However, according to people privy to this matter, phone company representatives and federal law enforcement officials have articulated worry that some police authorities were misusing lawful shortcuts by submitting an excessive number of requests for cellphone data. For instance, in a hearing, a Baltimore police official informed the court that phone records were used about 4,300 times by the department in a murder case investigation. The law-enforcement administrators said that they aren’t concerned with collecting massive amounts of data using the devices, rather, their role is to identify an individual suspect from a vast collection of digital data.
Privacy activists argued that the strategy only amounts to a digital dragnet where an uncommunicative ID check of innocent people who are guiltless is done. Furthermore, the silent scanning usually interferes with the normal functioning of cellphones being scanned.
Resident police departments were required to sign a concealed agreement with the FBI to be able to retrieve the technology- accepting not to disclose how the technology operates and to be assured of FBI’s support should they be questioned by the court or elsewhere.
Also as part of the bargain, police agencies recognized that they might have to let go of accusations against suspects if arraigning them may lead to information about the technology being exposed.
Conversely, the FBI was not responsible for the legal standards required by the police in handling the devices. However, if police departments requested for guidance concerning the devices, then FBI would step in.
Adding to the controversy, a federal court of Appeal in New York ruled out that the confidential National Security plan that was methodically collecting American citizen’s phone records in bulk was unlawful. The verdict emerged as a tussle in Congress in emphasizing on whether to terminate and substitute the program or to postpone it without any modifications.
In a 97-page decision, a panel constituting of three judges for the United States Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit maintained that a provision of the U.S.A Patriot Act referred to as Section 215 cannot be legally translated to permit large gathering of domestic call histories.
The stipulation of the law used to defend the bulk data program was to expire June 1, 2015, and the decision increased the anxiety, which had already been developing in Congress. The move, however, pushed Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to create amendments to the Patriot Act, which he had on several occasions strongly protected against any modifications.
The issue of cellphone privacy and privacy on the internet remains a sensitive subject that needs the proper guidelines to ensure that both law enforcement and the ordinary citizens are happy.
But, dear reader, what do you think?
Is it right to collect a person’s cellphone data without a warrant?
What happens if police stop collecting cellphone data?