Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Snitch in Your Pocket

newsweek.com
Amid all the furor over the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program a few years ago, a mini-revolt was brewing over another type of federal snooping that was getting no public attention at all. Federal prosecutors were seeking what seemed to be unusually sensitive records: internal data from telecommunications companies that showed the locations of their customers' cell phones—sometimes in real time, sometimes after the fact. The prosecutors said they needed the records to trace the movements of suspected drug traffickers, human smugglers, even corrupt public officials. But many federal magistrates—whose job is to sign off on search warrants and handle other routine court duties—were spooked by the requests. Some in New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas balked. Prosecutors "were using the cell phone as a surreptitious tracking device," said Stephen W. Smith, a federal magistrate in Houston. "And I started asking the U.S. Attorney's Office, 'What is the legal authority for this? What is the legal standard for getting this information?' "

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