Monday, November 26, 2012

The threat of cellphones

The NY Times ran an article today entitled, Legality of Warrantless Cellphone Searches Goes to Courts and Legislatures. The article, written by Somini Sengupta, discusses the problem created by cell phones in legal cases. Currently, lawmakers and judges are going back and forth, trying to decide whether or not cell phones are admissible pieces of evidence in court cases. The courts are stuck on deciding if cell phones and more specifically their text messages, are "business records"or private records that would be privy to privacy protection.

This issue is in the national spotlight, and on Thursday, a Senate committee will be addressing making a few changes to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Cell phones have evolved over time, and not only can store messages, but maps with a history of where your cell phones has been, and other types of private data.

A change in the law could change the landscape of national security. Although phone taps have for years been used to track criminal activity, text messages and other data stored in cell phones have been used as evidence once officials have confiscated them. After the September 11th attacks, police and other intelligence officers used phone records to piece together a history of the hijackers and how they communicated with one another.

The book, Top Secret America, delves into the intelligence world and offers both details and criticisms of this ever-so-growing field. One of the suggestions I received from the book was that there is a need for some type of integrated informations system that would allow local, state, and federal officials to track real-time information. This collaborative effort would be updated to reflect the most current information. It would also combine records with any type of Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) received on a certain person or license plate. If cell phones and their data were allowed to be searched without a warrant, officials could use the information gleaned and run it against this national database. It would provide another way, albeit an expensive one, for officials to try and crack down on crime, while simultaneously attempting to prevent terrorist attacks from occurring. Officials could essentially immediately paint a picture, or a web to say, of a certain person's acquaintances, and see if they have any connection to anyone who is suspected of being a possible terrorist by the government.

I am by no means, advocating for the search and seizure of cell phone records without a warrant. All of us have sent some questionable text messages, I'm sure. When taken out of context, some could even be considered threatening, although that was not the original connotation. I still think there are serious issues here with the Fourth Amendment. The reason I wrote this blog on this particular issue was to see if some of us think cell phones do not require a warrant. Also, how strongly do you feel that cell phones and their data could provide assistance to national security?

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