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    CNet: Senator proposes mobile-privacy legislation

    CNet reports on a proposal from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) concerning the tracking of individuals’ location through mobile devices (also called geotracking).

    Federal law needs to be updated to halt the common police practice of tracking the whereabouts of Americans’ mobile devices without a search warrant, a Democratic senator said today. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said it was time for Congress to put an end to this privacy-intrusive practice, which the Obama Justice Department has sought to defend in court.

    In an luncheon speech at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., Wyden said his staff was drafting legislation to restore “the balance necessary to protect individual rights” by requiring police to obtain a search warrant signed by a judge before obtaining location information. […]

    Because the two-way radios in mobile phones are constantly in contact with cellular towers, service providers like AT&T and Verizon know — and can provide to police if required — at least the rough location of each device that connects to their mobile wireless network. If the phone is talking to multiple towers, triangulation yields a rough location fix. And, of course, the location of GPS-enabled phones can be determined with near-pinpoint accuracy.

    Wyden said this kind of eerily accurate remote surveillance is akin to searching a person’s home, which requires probable cause and a search warrant signed by a judge. “You just can’t argue logically to me…that secretly tracking a person’s movements 24/7 is not a significant intrusion into their privacy,” he said.

    The forthcoming legislation, he said, is being drafted with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), and will apply to “all acquisitions of geolocation information,” including GPS tracking devices that police are generally allowed to place on cars without warrants under current law.

    It will address both law enforcement and intelligence investigations, including saying that Americans who are overseas continue to enjoy the same location-privacy rights, a nod to the debate a few years ago over rewriting federal wiretapping law. It will also extend the same privacy protections to both “real-time monitoring and acquisition of past movements.”

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