How worried are you over police cell phone surveillance practices?


There was an article in Ars Technica today that laid out some of the practices of police departments across the country vis a vis mobile phones. The ACLU used open records laws to find out how police were conducting surveillance on cell phone users, and to put it mildly, I am not happy. Among things that were being done, very often without a warrant and with the assistance of network providers who have established price tables for their "services": obtaining a persons photos and video, voicemail records, and SMS content. I know many people think along the lines of, "Oh, well those are people who have done something wrong. It doesn't impact me." Well, wrong, there are very limited protections in place to prevent it from being you, whether you've done anything or not.



And then there are "tower dumps" available from your friendly provider AT&T/Sprint/Alltel/Verizon/T-Mobile for prices ranging from $50 to $500.  If you were in range of a tower and made a call, and police bought a "tower dump" of it, congratulations, your call is now part of police records.  


This may sound a little tin foil hat, and you might think it would happen somewhere else, but not in your town.  Well, the police chief of my city just resigned this week when it was revealed that the FBI is investigating the department for recording citizens' cell phone calls, without warrants or judicial oversight.  If it can happen here it can happen anywhere.


Oops, I almost forgot the link to the article.   


So what do others think.  Am I being paranoid and upset over nothing, or are we entering a future where almost everything we say, write and photograph should just be expected to be subject to police review?


Topic: Government
Answer this Question


2 total
Vote Up (11)

I think it's quite awful.

The way to deal with it is probably a two pronged strategy.

The first part might be legislation banning all such practices by police who lack a proper warrant issued by a judge. The legislation should include criminal penalties for police who break the law.

The second part might be some sort of encryption or other privacy controls built into the phone and/or network service that the phone uses. I'm not sure how this would work, but it seems like the phone makers and network carriers could come up with something that would stop the cops from doing this. Is it possible? I don't know but I'd like to see somebody try.

Police departments had also better watch it because they might end up getting sued if they do this to the wrong person. That could cost the town or municipality a lot of money if the phone owner wins in court.

I suspect this issue will eventually be dealt with, one way or the other.

Vote Up (10)

I also find it to be a deeply disturbing trend.  Unfortunately, I do not think the current composition of the judiciary is likely to challenge the police powers of the state.  Just last week, the Supreme Court held that you have no Constitutional protection against strip searches, even if you are picked up in error as was the situation that led to the case, or if it is a minor non-criminal offense.  Also, keep in mind that there was a recent decision related to GPS tracking of vehicles by law enforcement personnel without a warrant.  While the Court determined that it was an unconstitutional act under the 4th Amendment, the peg on which the Court hung its hat was the physical attachment of a GPS device to the subject vehicle.  During oral arguments, there were musings about whether this would be true if the FBI had used data from the individuals' cell phones.  Since much of this musing came from Scalia, a regular and consistent member of the conservative 5-4 majority, I would not rest conformably on the presumption that the Supreme Court will take the side of the individual in any privacy dispute involving law "enforcement".   


When it comes to Congress, good luck getting anything passed that an opponent could point at and claim, "Look, my opponent favors the privacy of terrorists over the saints of law enforcement who are trying to protect the children."  :-0

Ask a question

Join Now or Sign In to ask a question.
Two members of the British Parliament are seeking judicial review of a surveillance law that extends U.K. data retention rules and was rushed through by the government.
Researchers have concluded that those billions of connected devices could help save lives in the event of disaster, even one that knocks out the Internet
Google may be among the hopefuls vying to turn the New York City phone booths of the past into "communication points" of the future with free Wi-Fi and cellphone charging.
A company acquired by Google that develops robots for the U.S. military appears to have greatly reduced its dependence on government funding, suggesting a reluctance on Google's part to align itself too closely with military projects.
The U.S government can take action to slow the calls in other countries to abandon U.S. tech vendors following revelations about widespread National Security Agency surveillance, some tech representatives said Friday.
Plans to favor some Internet packets over others threaten consumers' hard-won right to use encryption, a digital privacy advocate says.
The European Commission took Apple to task Friday for failing to firmly commit to stopping inadvertent in-app purchases, particularly those made by children.
The U.K. government has pushed through a new surveillance law to replace one a European Union court said interfered with fundamental privacy rights -- but, say civil rights campaigners, the new law is worse than the one it replaces.
Companies trading in Bitcoin and other virtual currencies would be required to hold enough of the currencies to cover their debts to customers and would have to verify the identities of account holders as a protection against money laundering, under new regulations proposed by the New York State Department of Financial Services [DFS].
The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that would allow mobile phone customers to unlock their devices for the purposes of switching carriers.
Join us: