Thanks to the leadership of Congressman Ed Markey, we now know that the government made more than 1.3 million requests to cell phone companies for information on mobile phone subscribers in 2011 alone, at enormous expense to tax payers and untold danger to civil liberties.
Congressman Markey's inquiry to AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, MetroPCS, Cricket, U.S. Cellular, T-Mobile, Tracfone and C Spire for records indicating how many times law enforcement asked for our private information last year reveals that, once again, the law has failed to keep pace with changes in technology.
Simply put: America lacks clear legal standards over when and how government officials obtain, store, and use information about innocent people from third party information providers, such as cellular phone companies.
The cell phone data of innocent Americans almost certainly was swept up in the cell phone dragnets. Indeed, the documents reveal that, in at least some cases, the phone companies themselves raised concerns about the abuse of power, referring requests to the FBI.
Absent clear legal standards, there is no way to know whether that did any good.
I applaud Congressman Markey and the phone companies for shedding sunlight on these digital dragnets. But Iím not comfortable with relying on the good will of phone company compliance officers to protect my civil liberties Ė or yours.
There ought to be a law.
Fortunately, there can be. Bi-partisan bills that would require a warrant for location records, both named the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act, are currently pending in the House and Senate, having been introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
Congressman Markey did the right thing by shedding sunlight on surveillance. But unless and until we have clear safeguards and standards for how law enforcement gathers and stores location information, there is a massive privacy gap that leaves all of us vulnerable.
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