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Last Friday, The Wall Street Journal revealed that the Department of Homeland Security has been using commercially available cell phone location records for immigration and border enforcement. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the paper reported, has used the data “to help identify immigrants who were later arrested,” while Customs and Border Protection uses it “to look for cellphone activity in unusual places.”
On the one hand, the news is kind of a duh. If you’ve been following privacy issues at all in recent years, you know that websites and smartphone apps are sharing your detailed location information with data brokers and advertisers. Why wouldn’t law enforcement want to take advantage of that trove of surveillance intel? On the other hand, while the extent and specific details of the DHS program remain unclear, its existence raises a much broader set of questions. There’s nothing stopping other law enforcement agencies from making use of these data sets. (The exception is Utah, which passed a 2019 privacy law requiring police to get a warrant for certain types of online data.) The Fourth Amendment is supposed to prevent government officials from tracking our every move. Can they really just buy their way around the Constitution?
Fourth - Amendment - People - Searches - Applying
The Fourth Amendment is supposed to protect the people from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Applying that rule to location data generated by the devices we carry with us 24/7, however, is still very much a work in progress. The question first came up at the Supreme Court only two years ago, in Carpenter v. United States, and the answer was limited to a specific category of data known as cell site location information, or CSLI. To tie Timothy Carpenter to a string of robberies—of cell phone stores, neatly enough—the FBI in 2011 subpoenaed his cell-tower location records, which placed him near...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Wired
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