Obama Administration Seeks To Strip Cellphone Users of Privacy Protections

The Obama Administration is appealing a ruling in favor of privacy before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit — seeking to allow it to track people by their cellphones and arguing that there is no privacy expectations to prevent tracking without probable cause. It is another example of Obama’s continued assault on civil liberties — and the failure of liberals to call him to account for such policies.

Cellphones are now the most popular form of telephonic communication. Many homes no longer use “land lines” in favor of cellphones. That makes the forthcoming ruling of the Third Circuit all the more important for civil liberties to protect the privacy of such users.

U.S. Circuit Judge Dolores Sloviter expressed the obvious dangers of the Obama effort to track such phones in oral argument: “You know there are governments in the world that would like to know where some of their people are or have been. . . Can the government assure us that it will never try to find out these things? . . . Don’t we have to be concerned about this? Not this government right now, but a government?”

The Obama Administration took an extreme position that such concerns have little relevance because there is no privacy protection from such tracking of citizens — even without a showing of probable cause.

Privacy groups are fighting the Obama Administration, including the ACLU and EFF.

The Administration is relying on the 1986 Electronics Communications Privacy Act allows police to obtain “non-content” data without a warrant. It was a poorly written law with insufficient concern for civil liberties. The chief author of the law, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., seems to want to see a compromise affording the Administration the ability to track while protecting civil liberties. There is such a balance. It is called the probable cause provision of the United States Constitution. The government needs to show a judge that it has a basis for such surveillance.

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59 thoughts on “Obama Administration Seeks To Strip Cellphone Users of Privacy Protections”

  1. AY,

    If you know of a case in which SCOTUS curtailed the state constitutional rights of an individual please point me to it.

  2. AY,

    Federal courts are obliged to follow state law and state constitutional law as well as the state court interpretations of same.

  3. anon nurse,

    I do not believe that they can totally disable a vehicle but they can slow it down so that a safe pursuit possible. I do believe that I read an article out of Crain’s Detroit that mentioned this as possible technology about 20-25 or so years ago.

    About 10 years ago I went to a Christmas party in Grosse Ile, MI. It was an interesting one as the people who hosted the party were the inventors of the Mustang concept car. Interesting tidbit, the original Mustang’s engine was in the rear of the car and designed as a two seater….

  4. If they can “send a remote signal” to slow down the vehicle, I have to wonder what else they might be able to do in this “brave new world.”

  5. I see where the ACLU has stated it position and I agree. Your license plates have those 3 rings in the center that show the subliminal out line of the state. These are from what I understand a tracking mechanism as well. The vehicle are equipped with lots of electronics and an article I read stated that the police have the ability to slow down stolen vehicles.

    “OnStar says its new stolen vehicle service will remotely reduce the flow of fuel to an engine in a stolen car.”


    If memory serves me correctly a vehicle is fully electronically integrated if it does not have an outside antenna. Hence the vehicle can be subjected to police control if it does not have an outside antenna.

  6. “Unfortunately, according to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, we should let go of the expectation that police need permission to track our movements.” (from the aforementioned ACLU article)

    Given my vantage point, some in law enforcement now believe that they have the right “to track” even law-abiding citizens — that they have carte-blanche.

  7. anon nurse,

    That is total bullshit. I can see the damn Judge saying that if they have a RO on them then they have the right to put a tracker on the vehicle.

  8. Bob. Esq,

    I can see what this means. I suppose the point that I am trying to make is, what would stop the Feds from doing in Federal Court what the state courts state that they can’t? In that arena I think the Supremacy Clause would trump a state charge. In the same breath, I think if a state charge was lost in State court that the Federal Court will pick it up if they can obtain Jurisdiction. I am aware of a 6th Circuit Court Case where they did just that. The guy was convicted because a death occurred on a river that flowed into a Federal Reserve a shoe to be exact. The statement was it could have happened here. The guy was convicted in Federal Court. The state had screwed it up so bad.

    So, the point is if the state wants information. And the State court has declined to allow this to happen and it is fully permissible under Federal Law. I am sure that the A&I state grounds argument will fly out of the window and Feds will boot strap it to some Federal Case.

    I can even see this with an activity that is purely within state preview and is the Lottery. Same one person scams it and the state screws up the investigation. The multi state lottery will come into play and the Feds will pick it up.

    I can think of very little activity that is solely within a single states jurisdiction anymore. Used to say child support was a state function and so did they. Now under URESSA that is under Federal authority. It is just a matter of time before it goes to Federal Court and the states are merely a collection agency. That is my 2cents on that.

    I think there are a lot of unintended consequences with too much Federal Law. I just love that RWR, GHWB and GWB stated over and over State rights, State rights yada, yada, yada. Be careful. They are the ones that took the most away.

    I remember one time I had a Judge in a cracker Box and he called the Head of the State FOC to assist him. I was entitled to sanctions based upon what another attorney did based upon the existing law. Still the law. The only things that the judge was able to do was deny them and state that the attorney make a Good Faith Argument to change modify the law, etc.

    I was unsure if I was going to jail about 90 per cent of the time. But that judge was a Republican appointee. One day after W stole the election he stated something about how great America was. I stated how I felt about Presidents stealing the election and what I thought of Fraudulent Politicians including the one that appointed him. Well we never got along to well after that.

  9. AY: I can see where this is applicable to state cases. But say if the Feds get this information and it is supplied to a state agency, what is to stop them from sharing that very same information?”

    State Constitution trumps; Fed sets the floor of rights, state constitution sets the ceiling.

    IOW, The Fed can’t deny more rights than the state constitution is recognizing.

    (It’s tough to see it at first, since most of the case law has usually been the other way around; i.e. a fed SCOTUS Court setting the floor for the states in lieu of the state setting the ceiling.)

  10. Bob, Esq.

    I can see where this is applicable to state cases. But say if the Feds get this information and it is supplied to a state agency, what is to stop them from sharing that very same information?

    It is not like they are going to say hey we can’t help you. A lot of times state cases are dismissed if something Good happens to the Federal case. They use it as a bargaining tool.

    I see that at the present time it may be a small hurdle to jump through. But there is an end run around.

  11. “He believes the 1986 Electronics Communications Privacy Act allows police to obtain “non-content” data without a warrant.”

    Non-content data. Precious.


    Do you see how a New Yorker can seek refuge from the Fed interpretation of the 4th Amendment via adequate and independent state grounds under the state constitution?

  12. Nal or anyone interested,

    I found this on another site. This is a exert out of the Governments arguments for the ability to track. I wonder if someone should track the governments employees movements and then anonymously send them to them. I wonder how they would like it?

    “1986 Privacy Act

    He replied that the relevant law does not require them. Eckenwiler said probable-cause warrants are only needed to obtain the contents of electronic communications, such as a text or e-mail, or to wiretap a phone. He believes the 1986 Electronics Communications Privacy Act allows police to obtain “non-content” data without a warrant.”

    Most people are not aware of the ability that the US helped out the Sandinista’s in South America. The term Blackberry makes me cringe. It was a British operative that provided mercenaries the cellular ability to pick out where anyone was at anyone time. We did not get involved unless you consider satellites’ being lifted into space under the guise of “Star Wars.”

    The British government tracked the movements of the various entities engaged in assistance. Therefore I can see the governments arguments that this is not technically surveillance. They have done it for years and it is common place.

  13. Both cell phones and land lines may use the Internet, and therefore communication satellites, for some transmissions, especially but not exclusively for overseas communications. Cell phones are by invention, wireless. Nowadays “land lines” are, in reality, only that for the final run to the user’s phone.

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