What Part of “Search Warrant” Don’t You Understand?

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Should the government be allowed to track your location via cell phone without getting a search warrant? The Obama administration thinks it should:

In the case that’s before the Third Circuit on Friday, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, said it needed historical (meaning stored, not future) phone location information because a set of suspects “use their wireless telephones to arrange meetings and transactions in furtherance of their drug trafficking activities.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Lenihan in Pennsylvania denied the Justice Department’s attempt to obtain stored location data without a search warrant….Lenihan’s opinion (PDF) — which, in an unusual show of solidarity, was signed by four other magistrate judges — noted that location information can reveal sensitive information such as health treatments, financial difficulties, marital counseling, and extra-marital affairs.

In its appeal to the Third Circuit, the Justice Department claims that Lenihan’s opinion “contains, and relies upon, numerous errors” and should be overruled. In addition to a search warrant not being necessary, prosecutors said, because location “records provide only a very general indication of a user’s whereabouts at certain times in the past, the requested cell-site records do not implicate a Fourth Amendment privacy interest.”

Honest to God, what do these people have against search warrants? Practically everybody carries a cell phone today, so the DOJ position is tantamount to saying that the government has the right to track anybody in the country everywhere and at all times whenever it feels like it. You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that unlike, say, tailing a suspect, this is so cheap and attractive that it practically begs for abuse. It violates every instinct we have about what the government should and shouldn’t be allowed to do.

If you have evidence of a crime, get a search warrant. Then track away. How hard is that to understand?

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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