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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cell Phone Surveillance on the Rise

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The Electronic Communications Privacy Act was enacted in 1986, long before the smart phone, and has not been an updated to give guidance to law enforcement of what's legal and what's not. The Supreme Court did rule law enforcement could not attach a GPS tracking device to a vehicle without a warrant but that ruling was so narrow that it didn't specifically deal with cell phones that have GPS capabilities. We know what happens when you don't deal with specifics.

In 2011, law enforcement agencies made more than 1.3 million requests for consumer cell phone records. It didn't take long for law enforcement to find a gray area between privacy and consumer protection.

A couple of years ago,my sister was complaining to her daughter because she had  to go buy a new cell phone she had lost at the church's yard sale. My sister had an inexpensive phone with just a few contacts in it, but that didn't stop my niece from telling her husband, who's a Texas City policeman about the situation. While off duty, my niece's husband had called Verizon for a GPS location, which he received. To make a long story short, the person in possession of the phone, said that she had found it and was trying to find its owner. My niece's husband was wrong in so many ways because he didn't ask my sister's permission nor was he on duty. It's not a big deal but laws should be in place to prevent the misinterpretation of the law.

My carrier, AT&T, has a team of more than 100 workers who handle the requests pouring in from local state and Federal law enforcement agencies. Carriers say that the demand is so large as that they had to start charging law enforcement $25.00 to locate a cell phone using GPS, $25.00 to retrieve a user's text messages and $50.00 for a "cell tower dump." That" cell tower dump" could include your messages and phone calls without your knowledge and permission.

Representative Ed Markey-D-Mass. Said his investigation into the matter revealed two inappropriate requests from law enforcement and one from someone impersonating a police officer. To their credit, most carriers require a warrant but some comply with a subpoena that is not signed off by a judge.

There has to be exceptions for emergencies, and at times we have to leave it to the discretion of a 911 call center, as to whether there's an immediate threat to someone's life. Think about that, if it were your loved, one would you want to sit and wait for all the subpoenas and warrants to be signed before first responders can take action?

I remember being excited because the new Windows 7 was going to be equipped with GPS software that would be able to track your lost computer until a friend reminded me that it could also track you. The civil libertarians put enough pressure on Microsoft to get them to allow users to disable that feature.

Like many of us I don’t have anything to hide but I want to be treated with the respect every law abiding citizen should have. I don’t want to hinder law enforcement but I don’t want to give them unlimited, unchecked power either.

I remember the day I was first hired in the old timer took me back to the break room and said, “this is our coffee kitty; we have a lock on it to keep honest people honest." Don't you think it's time for parties involved to amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, if for nothing else to "keep honest people honest?"


dale said...

I do follow politics. And from your last blog, yes, parties do not cut budgets. But, I for one am wanting to be the one to lead the charge at the local level. All I ask is that government prioritize it's spending. If they prove EVERYTHING is necessary for life and limb, then good. At least the caring public has a greater understanding of what is going on. But my bet, the city, county, state, schools and feds will have a hard time justifying/prioritizing their activities. And then, I will get a smaller government.

Come watch the city administration squirm this timearound. Perhaps, we will find out how important every activity is. :)

dale said...

Concern for civil liberties, that is a libertarian trait.

For humans, everything is an emergency. For government, everything is possible. Some people, aka me, want to be left alone. If a government hack wants to find me, for whatever reason, let him get a subpoena and prove the need to the judge. If my car is underwater and I need immediate help... I will remember I wanted my privacy protected. And by the way, everything I have should be hidden. Unless, I chose to tell you... (and I seem to disclose much too much) there is no reason for you to know anything about me. But talking and sharing info is a right a free man retains.

Government can not be there everytime. Sometimes we need to be a little more self-dependent. Or, try On-Star.. it is the private sector alternative.

So tell me this, at what point do you want your privacy protected? When and by whom do you trust to decide what is in your best interest? Would you trust me to decide what is in your best interest?

Mike said...

I can't imagine where we can't compare any scenario compare the Federal government budget to a local one. It's like comparing a local video store's budget to Blockbuster. For example, we know that our expenditures for 2011 were $3.6 trillion and our revenues were $2.3 trillion. Part of the federal budget is for the local municipalities and the states, not vice versa.

Prioritize you say; the GOP will vote for the second time to repeal the entire health care law after already voting 31 times to repeal bits and pieces of it; knowing full well it will be defeated in the senate.

The word "necessary" will always be subjective.... It's a great goal but we lost our credit rating over something as silly as raising the debt ceiling.
We're cut from a different cloth, I will vote (or not) for my councilman but I'm not into micromanaging. I wouldn't enjoy seeing the city council squirm.... In all due respect, perhaps you should run for office, so those sitting in those chairs today have a chance to micromanage your opinions and votes. It is my belief that at some point we got to trust those who were elected for the good of the city.

We all agree that we should tighten our belt and be prudent and that constructive criticism should be encouraged. But I think “smaller government" is just a sound bite used by conservatives to constantly belittle government at all levels, in order to replace it with private utilities.

Mike said...

Dale or anyone else.

It's interesting that you bring up city budgets because that's what I was originally going to write about; not Victoria's but cities in general.

As you know, three somewhat large cities in California and Scranton, Pennsylvania are either filing for bankruptcy or cutting in vital services like policemen and firemen so deep, that it's creating a safety hazard.

Let's take Scranton, Pennsylvania( run by Democrats for the record) are having a spat with the unions because the policeman ,firemen and EMS personnel are cut down to minimum wage because the city only has about $5000 left in its coffers.

Our government won't provide the money for them so they are left out on their own. The mayor said that he had to do something to come up with a viable business plan in order to get a loan from the bank. Making concessions with the union was the first step, but they will have to raise property taxes by 78% in order to meet the budget. According to the news yesterday, they were thinking of raising everyone's taxes by $130 on average but that was without that 78% increase, just to meet this year's bills.

My questions:
1. If the right for first responders to be making less than those flipping burgers?
2. And at what point do the citizens agree to a tax increase?.. This might've been one of those places where citizens could have an input on priorities.

Mike said...


I'll answer your questions/statements

1...."Would you trust me to decide what is in your best interest?" That would depend on the situation... If you are a first responder, of course I would... If you were a banker and I needed a loan, I would be prepared to furnish you more private information.
2..." If my car is underwater and I need immediate help... I will remember I wanted my privacy protected." I would be willing to bet that your family would want a trace put on your phone in order for the rescuers to bring you back home to them.
3..."So tell me this, at what point do you want your privacy protected? "... At all times, unless there are some unforeseen circumstances where it is in my best interest for them to track my phone.

dale said...

Is it right to make less than those flipping burgers? Well, I just came from McDs and that burger was real important at that second. I didn't need a policeman... so yes, at that moment I wanted the flipper making more than a cop.

When does the citizenry agree to a tax increase? In a true democracy, everytime they made a new budget and were going to collect taxes for that year. Everytime the city wanted to get another loan to build something.

In the market place, the consumer votes everytime they purchase something. And it works, right? I'll let Mike sleep well tonight and say as a representative democracy once a year the citizenry will vote on its taxes. Then, we see if the citizenry likes what it gets or the police are flippin burgers... and making more money!

Mike said...

Spoken like a man who will never have to go through what The citizens of Scranton, Pennsylvania might have to go through....While it's true that it may not be the citizen's fault for the city's shortfall but they will pay the price the cut back on the first responders.. IMO

dale said...

Mike, I do not mean to hog your blog. After these months, you know who I am. So can you answer my question?

...."Would you trust me to decide what is in your best interest?"

(If you trust "an unknown" govt office would you trust a community neighbor you sort of know, to do in your best interest? And the answer is.......

..."So tell me this, at what point do you want your privacy protected? "... At all times, unless there are some unforeseen circumstances where it is in my best interest for them to track my phone. And when would you want me to act in your best interest?

Just call me and all your friends /enemies in Victoria your "Big Brother".

I know these are uncomfortable questions... but if you can/can not trust someone local... how could your relinquish control to a government person (RorD)you have never seen?

For me, I would relinquish control to a man like Mike. He has a genuine concern for others. He has principles. But unknown government, nope, I will not give up my liberty outside when I call for assistance to a policeman or fireman. After that, I am being placed in a situation outside of my ability to control. Then, that is when you begin to loose your liberties. And your answers to the questions Mike?

Michael Gomez said...

The word "importance" is and always will be a subjective term. "Significance" can always be reasoned out and proven (albeit, with a certain amount of debate). Should our police force be paid less than fast food workers? Should our teachers be paid less than people who move money around for a living? The answer to both questions is "no". The long-term significance of both vocations is much higher than a retail worker or a peon in the service sector. The market has not worked for the betterment of those who allow its existence. Without the working class the market wouldn't exist.

When budgets are slashed and civil servants' pay, benefits, and pensions diminish, it does not only affect their quality of life, but the entirety of the nations. Unfortunately, the American people have been conditioned to adhere to the "I've got mine" mentality, which is neither moral, nor sustainable.

As for the GPS tracking and illegal wire tapping, it's a violation of civil liberties (of which protecting is not just a "libertarian" trait).

Mike said...

Good point Michael,"Without the working class the market wouldn't exist." I would add that the middle class is the "job creator" not the 1%.

Mike said...

Dale you are a worthy contributor, so you cannot possibly hog the blog comment section.

The unknown" govt office is the neighbor who wears a different uniform not some foreign enemy. He or she is supposed to be trained in community relations and how to deal with what we might consider private information...This past Saturday, I went to the waste disposal where they handed me a vest and hardhat and I had to surrender my drivers license until I emptied my load and was ready to pay. Why and did I have a choice? My driver’s license has a lot of info on it than can be used to obtain even more. The trust is left in the hands of the private and public sector just about every day.

I do think our representatives need to discuss and amend the 1986 Communications Act.

dale said...

The 2008 Democratic Party Platform: down)

"Reclaiming Our Constitution and Our Liberties"... "We support constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans....

I wish President Bush had supported anti-wiretap laws a little better. Does anyone know what became of the Chicago ganger who went to Afghanistan to try to help the Taliban? Last I heard his liberties were still tied up in a military stockade. And for the least American who is denied his Constitutional there goes yours and mine rights.

Mike said...

I agree with your summation of the liberties that were surrendered for security. We just need to go to Hobby and watch the intrusive pat downs to see an example of that. There is a case of an American propagandist and his 16 year old son being killed by a drone without due process. So you are" preaching to the choir" but with the latter I think once you go to the battlefields of Yemen and consort and use a computer or a AK 47 against your country, then you are just as much an enemy as al Qaeda or the Taliban. I do think Congress should make that distinction not the military or the Commander in Chief. Congress has been negligent in their duties for years.

I DO NOT use isolated cases of abuses of liberties or constitutional rights to paint a broad bush of ALL of US losing our liberties.

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