For anyone that was addicted to the HBO show, 'The Wire' you are probably already familiar with how law enforcement can wiretap phones. For those who remember the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program to obtain information from suspected terrorists, you know how the federal government's policies infringed on privacy rights. But did you also know that our smartphones can become our own worst enemy?
That's right "the snitch in your pocket" can provide law enforcement 'location-markers' as to your where-abouts without the benefit of a warrant. Michael Isikoff's alarming investigative report in Newsweek on this topic notes that "cell-phone tracking is among the more unsettling forms of government surveillance, conjuring up Orwellian images of Big Brother secretly following your movements through the small device in your pocket."
AT&T, Verizon and Sprint can track you in real-time and provide that information to the authorities based your phone's GPS device and the call towers closest to your location.Sprint Nextel has even set up a dedicated Web site so that law-enforcement agents can access the records from their desks—a fact divulged by the company's "manager of electronic surveillance" at a private Washington security conference last October.
According to Isikoff's report, "the FBI and other law-enforcement
outfits have been obtaining more and more records of cell-phone
locations—without notifying the targets or getting judicial warrants
establishing "probable cause," according to law-enforcement officials,
court records, and telecommunication executives."
So if the the data in your pocket could become incriminating, and law officials no longer need a court order to wiretap your cell phone, who keeps them in check so abuses of the system don't take place?
Similar to how the definitions of censorship have changed over the years, the legal ground rules remain unclear and federal privacy laws written a generation ago are no longer valid in today's world. Today the US Department of Justice lawyers claim that "a customer's Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals to the government its own record that shows where a mobile device placed and revealed calls.The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, cited the so-called state secrets privilege as its defense.
A number of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, tried to sue the government over warrantless wiretapping but their plea was denied because they could not show they were targeted.
Bottomline - until these new rulings get ironed out in the courts, your cellphone remains your snitch. IfStringer Bell from 'The Wire' you think you can live with out your iPhone, more power to you. If not, stop at all red lights, do not drink and drive and obey all the natural decency laws in your neighborhood. This will increase your chances of staying clear of the legal authorities in most instances. However, when you do find the need to break the law, my advice is to borrow someone else's 'snitch' before you dial Stringer Bell.