EFF in the News
The appeal heard Friday stems from a Pittsburgh drug-trafficking case, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sought the data as an investigative tool because the suspects frequently changed vehicles and residences.
Magistrate Lisa Pupo Lenihan denied the 2008 request, calling the information "extraordinarily personal and potentially sensitive."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union asked that Lenihan's ruling stand.
But Kevin Bankston, an EFF attorney, called on Philadelphia's 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the 2008 ruling.
"If the courts do side with the government, that means that everywhere we go, in the real world and online, will be an open book to the government unprotected by the Fourth Amendment," he warned in an interview with CNET.com.
Danny O'Brien, an international outreach coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that after Google said its popular Web email service had been attacked by Chinese hackers, the company began encrypting, or protecting, all of its email messages and chats. This makes monitoring more difficult.
Many people have no idea how much data their cellphones collect about them. Phones, for example, report back to the carriers on where the users are at any given time — in some cases even when the phone is not in use. When you carry a cellphone, you are “essentially carrying a tracking device,” says Jennifer Granick, the civil liberties director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, along with several other groups including the American Library Association, urged an appeals court to uphold a ruling in a long-running suit related to secondhand software sales.
"This is a critical question for privacy in the 21st century," says Kevin Bankston, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who will be arguing on Friday. "If the courts do side with the government, that means that everywhere we go, in the real world and online, will be an open book to the government unprotected by the Fourth Amendment."
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.
The Justice Department is poised this week to publicly defend a little-known law-enforcement practice that critics say may be the "sleeper" privacy issue of the 21st century: the collection of cell-phone "tracking" records that identify the physical locations where the phones have been.
It may come as a surprise to most of the owners of the country's 277 million cell phones, but their cell-phone company retains records of where their device has been at all times—either because the phones have tiny GPS devices embedded inside or because each phone call is routed through towers that can be used to pinpoint the phones' location to within areas as small as a few hundred feet.
"Most people don't understand they are carrying a tracking device in their pockets," says Kevin Bankston, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy group that has been trying to monitor the Justice Department's practice.
The memo was made public as part of a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which was seeking reports from an intelligence oversight panel. After The New York Times reported on its contents in December, a lawyer representing anti-abortion activists who attended the rally asked Middleton police to release a copy of the assessment under Wisconsin's open records law.
“You’d think it was nuclear weapons kind of stuff, not intellectual property law,” said Eddan Katz, international affairs director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which campaigns against regulation of the Internet. “The fact that there are 30 or 50 people sitting around a table deciding the laws of the world’s nations, when there are major areas of disagreement, seems like a wholesale contravention of the democratic process.”