Jason Weinstein, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s criminal division under President Obama’s administration, argued at the “State of the Mobile Net” conference sponsored by the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee that cellphone records should be easier to obtain.
In the most obvious news of the day, advocates of civil liberties and privacy were upset with these comments.
According to a Reuters report, Weinstein “argued that requirements for warrants at early stages of investigations would ‘cripple’ prosecutors and law enforcement.” Federal courts remain largely undecided on if they deem it a requirement to obtain a warrant prior to collecting records of phone usage stored in transmission towers.
The U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled that a “warrant was needed to put a GPS satellite tracking device on a suspect’s vehicle.” This was likely the beginning of many court cases used to decide the interpretations of laws as technology advances.
Weinstein thinks that warrants should not be needed to retrieve data from towers. “There really is no fairness and no justice when the law applies differently to different people depending on which courthouse you’re sitting in,” Weinstein stated. “For that reason alone, we think Congress should clarify the legal standard.”
Well, at least that comment is true.
But Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, disagreed, saying, “We’re all here, the criminals are not taking over the country.” He also pointed out that in the Supreme Court GPS case, zero justices voted in favor of allowing tracking without a warrant.
This is obviously something that needs to be addressed, but where does one draw the line here? A conversation in 1845 on a sidewalk holds the same weight as a conversation on a Motorola Razr in 2007, so do police have the right to just go snooping through cell phone records?
Judgment must be used here as a line cannot (and hopefully will not) be drawn. If it has to do with National Security, go right ahead and search the cell phone records. If a person has been charged with a crime or other substantial evidence has been obtained beyond reasonable doubt, cell phone records should be able to be acquired. But authorities should 100 percent not be able to collect records of cell phone usage without a warrant. It would not ‘cripple’ investigations like Weinstein said, it would be just like any other warrant obtained before. Authorities can’t just go running into houses to search them, so they also shouldn’t be able to run to cell phone towers to collect data.
The main point to be made: it’s an election year. Don’t expect any government officials to be passing much legislation, especially involving unreasonable search and seizure of personal cell phone data.