CNET was the first to report on prospective tracking of American citizens using cell phone technology, but this week Barack Obama becomes the Dark Knight himself, seizing the opportunity to spy on every American through unfettered access to their cell phone records, physical locations and internet use.
In the movie the Dark Knight, Batman uses cell phone technology to spy on the citizens of Gotham, following their every move in his quest to locate his nemesis. On Friday, the Obama administration will argue in federal court for the right, without a court-ordered warrant, to gain access to cellular provider records documenting the time and location American citizens place cell phone calls. I know you’re thinking, “But what about my Constitutional rights against search and seizure?” Those rights will no longer exist. The Obama administration is advocating that,
“Warrantless tracking is permitted because Americans enjoy no ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ whereabouts. U.S. Department of Justice lawyers say that ‘a customer’s Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals to the government its own records’ that show where a mobile device placed and received calls.
But cellular providers record more information than just when and where a call is placed. All cell phones “ping” the closest cell phone towers when not in use, alerting the tower it is within its transmission range, even when it’s turned off. The only way to disconnect a cell phone’s ability to contact the towers is to remove its battery.
Despite the Obama administration’s assertion, I somehow doubt the signers of the Constitution would have agreed there is “no reasonable expectation of privacy.” The question then becomes, “Do customers have an expectation of privacy from cellular providers?” Because when the DOJ asks for ”records that show where a mobile device placed and received calls,” they receive all data collected by the towers, including your location when you walked down the street with your phone in your pocket.
With more than 89% of Americans using cellular phones and 82% with internet access, the court’s ruling has profound implications. Kevin Bankston, attorney for civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, explains,
“This is a critical question for privacy in the 21st century. If the courts do side with the government, that means that everywhere we go, in the real world and online, will be an open book to the government unprotected by the Fourth Amendment.”
Imagine the possibilities if a targeted person possesses a cell phone. His movement can be tracked, logged and searched without the commission of a crime, and without knowledge by the courts. The screams of the Left roared for eight years about Patriot Act violation of citizen privacy and freedom, as they declared President Bush was,
“Seizing dictatorial control”
Why are they silent now when one of their own not only extends the Patriot Act, but directs his Department of Justice to seek legal authority to track citizen activities and their whereabouts through cell phone records?
The ability to observe or trace a citizen’s activities without consent or a court-ordered warrant violates their rights and limits their freedoms. According to Bankston a more ominous threat exists should the court rule in the Obama administration’s favor,
“The government is arguing that based on precedents from the 1970s, any record held by a third party about us, no matter how invasively collected, is not protected by the Fourth Amendment.”
Obama taught constitutional law and is well aware this is a fictitious interpretation of the Constitution. But like Batman in the Dark Knight, will he use cellular technology to track his nemeses? For an administration who labels conservatives as potential terrorists and systematically attacks their opponents, the potential for abuse abounds. And should the administration win, will they use this case as a precedent to dismantle our Constitutional freedoms and, eventually, our Republic?