The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday (pdf) that the government must turn over information from criminal prosecutions in which federal law enforcement agencies obtained cell-site location information without a warrant. The suit, filed as part of EFF’s FLAG Project and in conjunction with the ACLU, sought the release of the case numbers and case names in which the government had tracked the location of a person’s cell phone without obtaining a warrant.
The Court’s decision is the latest victory in the fight to stop the government from tracking citizens’ movements without a warrant. The D.C. court’s ruling follows on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision to review United States v. Jones – a case challenging the constitutionality of law enforcement’s warrantless tracking of a suspect using a GPS device. The decision also follows the introduction of several bills in Congress that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before tracking someone’s location through their cell phone. Those bills were introduced in response to calls for location privacy reform by the Digital Due Process coalition, a diverse group of civil liberties groups like EFF and the Center for Democracy and companies like Google and Microsoft, that are pressing Congress to update electronic privacy law for the 21st century. And, of course, EFF has been fighting in the courts against warrantless cell phone location tracking for years, with much success. All of these developments are part of a growing trend toward greater public scrutiny, accountability, and transparency when it comes to law enforcement’s location tracking practices – a need that the court acknowledged in Tuesday’s decision. More
More than five years ago, EFF filed the first lawsuit aimed at stopping the government’s illegal mass surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans’ private communications. <=”" a=”">Whistleblower evidence combined with news reports and Congressional admissions revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) was tapped into AT&T’s domestic network and databases, sweeping up Americans’ emails, phone calls and communications records in bulk and without court approval.
Hepting v. AT&T, our case challenging the telecom giant’s illegal collaboration with the NSA, faced a barrage of attacks from the government — including outrageous claims that national security prevented the courts from considering whether AT&T and the government were breaking the law and violating the Constitution. When that gambit seemed to be failing, the White House and the telecoms led a lobbying campaign to convince Congress to pass a law threatening to terminate our suit. When that law passed we filed a follow-up suit directly against the government, Jewel v. NSA, to open a second front in our fight to stop the spying.
On August 31, 2011, at 2 pm in Seattle, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear a warrantless wiretapping double-feature, to decide whether the Hepting and Jewel cases can proceed. At stake will be whether the courts can consider the legality and constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s mass interception of Americans’ Internet traffic, phone calls, and communications records.
Jewel v. NSA, EFF’s case directly against the government and government officials, will be argued by EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. The District Court dismissed Jewel on the grounds that, because millions of Americans had been illegally spied upon, no single American had standing to sue. The alarming upshot of the court’s decision is that as long as the government spies on all Americans, the courts have no power to review or halt such mass surveillance even when it is flatly illegal and unconstitutional. EFF will argue that the number of people harmed should have no bearing on whether each individual — whose own communications and communications records are being intercepted and diverted to the government — should be able to sue. More