ACLU staff attorney Catherine Crump writes an opinion piece about a case before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals concerning privacy and cellphone use. I’ve written about privacy issues connected with mobile phone use and location tracking via GPS before. You can learn more about location privacy in a recent white paper from EFF, “On Locational Privacy, and How to Avoid Losing it Forever.” For more on the Third Circuit case that Crump is discussing, read this story at Law.com.
If you own a cell phone, you should care about the outcome of a case scheduled to be argued in federal appeals court in Philadelphia tomorrow. It could well decide whether the government can use your cell phone to track you – even if it hasn’t shown probable cause to believe it will turn up evidence of a crime.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology will ask the court to require that the government at least show probable cause before it can track your whereabouts.
Although most people don’t realize it, cell phones double as tracking devices. Newer phones contain GPS chips, the same technology that allows car navigation systems to know where you are and give directions (“Turn right now”). But even older phones that don’t have chips can be tracked by knowing the location of the cell towers they use to connect to a network. […]
But documents obtained by the ACLU and the EFF as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit show that the government takes advantage of this technology to track cell phones as extensively as possible – often without first obtaining warrants – except in states where courts step in to establish boundaries. […]
We hope the court will send a message that merely carrying a cell phone should not make people more susceptible to government surveillance. No one wants to feel as if a government agent is following her wherever she goes – be it a friend’s house, a place of worship, or a therapist’s office – and innocent Americans shouldn’t have to feel that way.
The government has argued that “one who does not wish to disclose his movements to the government need not use a cellular telephone.” This is a startling and dismaying statement coming from the United States. The government is supposed to care about people’s privacy. It should not be forcing the nation’s 277 million cell-phone subscribers to choose between risking being tracked and going without an essential communications tool.