Obama wants all the info in your Smart Phone without a Warrant (Lazare)

Sarah Lazare writes at Commondreams.org

Amid ongoing controversy over NSA warrantless spying programs, another legal battle exposes the Obama administration’s willingness to steamroll civil liberties in the name of “security.”

Last week, the Obama administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a precedent-setting ruling that the 4th amendment—which prohibits unreasonable and warrantless searches and seizures—somehow allows for warrantless searches of personal cell phones, the Washington Post reports.
(Photo: Reuters)

The case in question dates back to 2007, when a man from Massachusetts was arrested for allegedly selling crack cocaine. Police seized his cell phone and, without a warrant, searched its contents to access information that allowed them to locate the defendant’s home. Evidence found at the defendant’s home was then used in court, and he was convicted of a felony.

The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the warrantless search of his phone violated his 4th amendment rights, and a 1st circuit court accepted the argument earlier this year, ruling that the police had acted unlawfully.

Last month the Obama administration stepped in and petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case and rule that the cellphone search is, in fact, lawful, because, “a cellphone is no different than any other object a suspect might be carrying” and thus fair game for searches.

Yet, civil liberties advocates charge that cell phones contain vast troves of personal information, and warrantless access constitutes a severe violation of privacy rights.

“Our mobile devices hold our emails, text messages, social media accounts, and information about our health, finances, and intimate matters of our lives. That’s sensitive information that police shouldn’t be able to get without a warrant,” said Linda Lye, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, in reference to a separate case of a warrantless phone search earlier this year. “The Constitution gives us the right to speak freely and know that police won’t have access to private communications in our cell phones unless there is a good reason.”

Obama is pushing for warrantless cell searches as a public scandal about unlawful NSA spying—which includes warrantless collecting of phone data—continues to spiral.

“We know the Obama Administration is spying on the American people’s phone calls and emails. Now they want some of their activity legalized,” declared D.S. Wright on FiredogLake. “It seems to be a two tracked system—if it’s illegal the government will do it in secret and if its legal they will do it openly.”

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Mirrored from Commondreams.org

15 Responses

  1. ” the constitution gives us the right…” says Ms. Lye. Ben Franklin reportedly knew the actual situation: ” We have given you a Republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
    Looks pretty clear that we won’t have any more luck doing that than theRomans did. What did theirs last? Seventeen years? How long before our rulers started laughing at that silly piece of parchment with its high sentiments and ” rights, ” as amended?
    There is no right, under ” the law,” if there is no remedy. No kind of “apology” can do more than obscure what’s in the wind.
    Enjoy our blog freedom while we can. We’re like the Anarchists in the coffee houses…

    • “Enjoy our blog freedom while we can. We’re like the Anarchists in the coffee houses…”

      A little overwrought, don’t you think? I am not aware of anyone posting on this blog who has been subject to the midnight knock on the door and thrown into the equivalent of Lubyanka, and I don’t expect anyone will.

      Nevertheless, it’s fun to imagine one’s self as being like “the Anarchists in the coffee houses.” Puts one in the same company as Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, and the Nihilist Sergei Nechayev. Illustrious and romantic company indeed.

    • Answer to your question from a professional Roman historian and a correction Mr. McPhee. The republican form of government arose in Rome over a series of centuries, between the 6th and 5th, and by tradition was established in 509 BCE after (by tradition) a monarchy that was established in 753 BCE.

      It functioned pretty well until the wheels started coming off in the late second century BCE. There are a good many causes for this, but the corruption of public virtue and the overwhelming power of money in Roman politics, along with many other reasons, both fascinating and complex, led to the military dictatorship of the emperors. Public offices were simply purchased, or obtained through violence, and the introduction of the military into the civic sphere was catastrophic for republican government. Warlords such as Caesar or Pomepy could dimly purchase the loyalty of their men and create huge blocks of political power for themselves – whether their veterans voted for them, fought for them, or used the threat of violence to enforce their political will. It upset the traditional balance of power within the Roman Senate and led in part to the collapse of republican government.

      So, does the power of money and the excessive influence of a few sound frightening and familiar? Good, it should. You can read all about this in Sallust, Cicero, Plutarch, Appian, and Cassius Dio, to mention just a few of the most prominent ancient sources. As a long time student and teacher of ancient history I am always amazed of how it boils down to “follow the money”, from the brief but brutal Athenian Empire, to the fall of Rome’s republic, to the rise of Christianity (which would have stalled out, in my opinion, but for the imperial patronage of Constantine and his family in the fourth century AD). Chrema, chrema t’aner, saith Pindar, “Money, money’s the man!”

      It is a more sordid aspect of the human condition. However many modern historians in my view are too quick to discount moral causality in historical analysis, perhaps because the ancients relied on it to excess, and of course with modern sociology and demographics, it should not be the be all and end all. That having been said, I think there has been a gross destruction of public virtue in our culture. That is why in the past 35 years or so there have been no or almost penalties for those involved (say) in Iran-Contra, the Iraq debacle, or torture, and why, in fact, torture is tolerated. The NSA is small potatoes now, in the public mind, in the wake of Patriot Acts and Abu Ghraib.

      It is not so much a case, for us, of Vae victis, but Vae victoribus.

  2. The smart thing surely is not to have a smart phone. I can buy here in the UK a new phone costing about ten dollars. It makes and receives phone calls and texts. That’s it, it does nothing else at all. When I look at other peoples smart phones it seems to me that the smart things these phones can do, no actually does it on them.

    • Yep. That’s precisely what I did. (See comment below.) It’s a convenience that, for me, has become more of a liability than an asset. A person can hardly have a civilized conversation any more without having people check their cell phones.

    • Does that Simplephone also somehow obscure the location of your device from triangulation location via cell tower, and encrypt your transmissions and receptions that go out to the grid of cell towers and through the networks that we already are assured are well-observed and “collected?”

      All part of previously discussed misapprehension of the nature of the Panopticon.

      In a different context, a smart computer observed that “The only way to win is not to play the game…”

  3. “Looks pretty clear that we won’t have any more luck doing that than the Romans did. What did theirs last? Seventeen years?”

    Your quote, cited above, referencing the Roman Republic as lasting 17 years, is off by four and a half centuries. The Republic was established in 509 BC with the overthrow of the monarchy, and it is generally agreed that it ended with Julius Caesar’s assumption of dictatorial powers in 45 BC, a span of 464 years.

    The American Republic has lasted for 237 years, not a bad record for modern times. It is tempting to use ancient Rome as a template and touchstone for extrapolating and imposing one’s views on events today (“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” “The Fall of Rome,” etc.), but those who do so often operate in an ahistorical vacuum.

    Like the “lessons” of Munich in 1938 regarding “appeasement,” or the “lessons” of Vietnam, regarding military engagement, it pays to be selective in extrapolating past events onto current and future developments. Talking to a hostile power does not always result in appeasement as it did in Munich. Military engagement does not always result in pointless waste of blood and treasure as it did in Vietnam.

    The same holds true regarding ancient Rome. There may be valid lessons that fit certain situations, or not, depending on the issue.

    • Back to tit- for-tat? I do know a bit of history and I even fact check myself, and you and others, from time to time. You and I both do a little exaggeration for various reasons. But never waste the opportunity to try to impeach anyone who might make points that call your assertions and absolutisms. Same world, different planet…

  4. …after you’re been arrested.

    You’re smooshing together two dramatically different issues here. This is a case about whether the police can look at your cell phone after you’ve been arrested with it on your person, the same way they can search your pockets, your wallet, or your backpack. In fact, it has long been the law that they can. What is happening now is a challenge to the existing case law, based on the argument that the amount of information on a smart phone is greater than just the calling records on a phone from ten years ago.

    I haven’t made up my mind about how the changing facts should, or should not, result in changes to the longstanding constitutional doctrine that the police can search your personal effects after you’ve been arrested.

    I have made up my mind, though, that we’re not going to have an intelligent discussion about the issue here if people write about it in a misleading way.

    This has no connection to the NSA.

  5. There is an old saying that ‘arguments from analogy are odious'; so let me make an ‘odious’ comment. Let’s imagine that instead of a cell phone with contact information the person in this case had filled an old fashioned notebook made from dead trees. Would he be contending that the gov’t cannot ‘access’ that information?

    Well, perhaps. We’ll see how the Supremes rule. But I contend that information storage on electronic devices is not more sacred than information made from cellulose and ink.

  6. When my contract expired with my cell phone provider and my old smart phone finally died, I replaced it with a dumb phone. All it does it send and receive phone calls. I now have a dedicated GPS for when I travel. I write shopping lists on a piece of paper. I’ve committed phone numbers and addresses to memory.

    I started doing this before Snowden’s release of documents. Mostly, it was because I ceased to find value in being “connected” every single minute. Also, because I’d gotten mentally lazy. Our growing dependence on technology is costing us in all kinds of ways. Lack of privacy is just the most egregious.

  7. Too bad Lennie Briscoe died too soon to have this tool available. Them bad guys wouldn’t a’ stood a chance.

  8. The United States Supreme Court has long had a “search incident to arrest” exception to the Warrant Clause requirement contained in the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

    The exception holds that if police lawfully arrested you for criminal violation they could search any containers located on you as the arrestee. So the Obama administration’s position is not that far-fetched.

    It is a common law enforcement tactic nowadays to find a legal way of accessing computer hard drives, cell phones, and cell phone records. They are a great resource to learning virtually everything about a person.

    • The room for abuse here is enormous. Police can arbitrarily arrest someone and the go on a fishing expedition through his data.

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