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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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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