Thursday, June 12, 2014

OpenStack 06/13/2014 (a.m.)

  • Another victory for civil libertarians against the surveillance state. Note that this is another decision drawing guidance from the Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Jones, shortly before the Edward Snowden leaks came to light, that called for re-examination of the Third Party Doctrine, an older doctrine that data given to or generated by third parties is not protected by the Fourth Amendment.   

    Tags: surveillance state, location-data, 4th Amendment, litigation

    • The government and police regularly use location data pulled off of cell phone towers to put criminals at the scenes of crimes—often without a warrant. Well, an appeals court ruled today that the practice is unconstitutional, in one of the strongest judicial defenses of technology privacy rights we've seen in a while. 

      The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the government illegally obtained and used Quartavious Davis's cell phone location data to help convict him in a string of armed robberies in Miami and unequivocally stated that cell phone location information is protected by the Fourth Amendment.

      "In short, we hold that cell site location information is within the subscriber’s reasonable expectation of privacy," the court ruled in an opinion written by Judge David Sentelle. "The obtaining of that data without a warrant is a Fourth Amendment violation."

    • In Davis's case, police used his cell phone's call history against him to put him at the scene of several armed robberies. They obtained a court order—which does not require the government to show probable cause—not a warrant, to do so. From now on, that'll be illegal. The decision applies only in the Eleventh Circuit, but sets a strong precedent for future cases.
    • Indeed, the decision alone is a huge privacy win, but Sentelle's strong language supporting cell phone users' privacy rights is perhaps the most important part of the opinion. Sentelle pushed back against several of the federal government's arguments, including one that suggested that, because cell phone location data based on a caller's closest cell tower isn't precise, it should be readily collectable. 

      "The United States further argues that cell site location information is less protected than GPS data because it is less precise. We are not sure why this should be significant. We do not doubt that there may be a difference in precision, but that is not to say that the difference in precision has constitutional significance," Sentelle wrote. "That information obtained by an invasion of privacy may not be entirely precise does not change the calculus as to whether obtaining it was in fact an invasion of privacy."

      The court also cited the infamous US v. Jones Supreme Court decision that held that attaching a GPS to a suspect's car is a "search" under the Fourth Amendment. Sentelle suggested a cell phone user has an even greater expectation of location privacy with his or her cell phone use than a driver does with his or her car. A car, Sentelle wrote, isn't always with a person, while a cell phone, these days, usually is.

    • "One’s cell phone, unlike an automobile, can accompany its owner anywhere. Thus, the exposure of the cell site location information can convert what would otherwise be a private event into a public one," he wrote. "In that sense, cell site data is more like communications data than it is like GPS information. That is, it is private in nature rather than being public data that warrants privacy protection only when its collection creates a sufficient mosaic to expose that which would otherwise be private."

      Finally, the government argued that, because Davis made outgoing calls, he "voluntarily" gave up his location data. Sentelle rejected that, too, citing a prior decision by a Third Circuit Court.

      "The Third Circuit went on to observe that 'a cell phone customer has not ‘voluntarily’ shared his location information with a cellular provider in any meaningful way.' That circuit further noted that 'it is unlikely that cell phone customers are aware that their cell phone providers collect and store historical location information,'” Sentelle wrote.

    • "Therefore, as the Third Circuit concluded, 'when a cell phone user makes a call, the only information that is voluntarily and knowingly conveyed to the phone company is the number that is dialed, and there is no indication to the user that making that call will also locate the caller,'" he continued.
  • The Florida case is particularly interesting because Florida is within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which has just ruled that law enforcement must obtain a search warrant from a court before using equipment to determine a cell phone's location.  

    Tags: surveillance state, location-data, public-records-acts, litigation, stingrays

    • WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration has been quietly advising local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology they are using to sweep up basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods, The Associated Press has learned.

      Citing security reasons, the U.S. has intervened in routine state public records cases and criminal trials regarding use of the technology. This has resulted in police departments withholding materials or heavily censoring documents in rare instances when they disclose any about the purchase and use of such powerful surveillance equipment.

      Federal involvement in local open records proceedings is unusual. It comes at a time when President Barack Obama has said he welcomes a debate on government surveillance and called for more transparency about spying in the wake of disclosures about classified federal surveillance programs.

    • One well-known type of this surveillance equipment is known as a Stingray, an innovative way for law enforcement to track cellphones used by suspects and gather evidence. The equipment tricks cellphones into identifying some of their owners' account information, like a unique subscriber number, and transmitting data to police as if it were a phone company's tower. That allows police to obtain cellphone information without having to ask for help from service providers, such as Verizon or AT&T, and can locate a phone without the user even making a call or sending a text message.

      But without more details about how the technology works and under what circumstances it's used, it's unclear whether the technology might violate a person's constitutional rights or whether it's a good investment of taxpayer dollars.

      Interviews, court records and public-records requests show the Obama administration is asking agencies to withhold common information about the equipment, such as how the technology is used and how to turn it on. That pushback has come in the form of FBI affidavits and consultation in local criminal cases.

    • "These extreme secrecy efforts are in relation to very controversial, local government surveillance practices using highly invasive technology," said Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought for the release of these types of records. "If public participation means anything, people should have the facts about what the government is doing to them."

      Harris Corp., a key manufacturer of this equipment, built a secrecy element into its authorization agreement with the Federal Communications Commission in 2011. That authorization has an unusual requirement: that local law enforcement "coordinate with the FBI the acquisition and use of the equipment." Companies like Harris need FCC authorization in order to sell wireless equipment that could interfere with radio frequencies.

      A spokesman from Harris Corp. said the company will not discuss its products for the Defense Department and law enforcement agencies, although public filings showed government sales of communications systems such as the Stingray accounted for nearly one-third of its $5 billion in revenue. "As a government contractor, our solutions are regulated and their use is restricted," spokesman Jim Burke said.

    • Local police agencies have been denying access to records about this surveillance equipment under state public records laws. Agencies in San Diego, Chicago and Oakland County, Michigan, for instance, declined to tell the AP what devices they purchased, how much they cost and with whom they shared information. San Diego police released a heavily censored purchasing document. Oakland officials said police-secrecy exemptions and attorney-client privilege keep their hands tied. It was unclear whether the Obama administration interfered in the AP requests.

      "It's troubling to think the FBI can just trump the state's open records law," said Ginger McCall, director of the open government project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. McCall suspects the surveillance would not pass constitutional muster.

      "The vast amount of information it sweeps in is totally irrelevant to the investigation," she said.

    • A court case challenging the public release of information from the Tucson Police Department includes an affidavit from an FBI special agent, Bradley Morrison, who said the disclosure would "result in the FBI's inability to protect the public from terrorism and other criminal activity because through public disclosures, this technology has been rendered essentially useless for future investigations."

      Morrison said revealing any information about the technology would violate a federal homeland security law about information-sharing and arms-control laws — legal arguments that that outside lawyers and transparency experts said are specious and don't comport with court cases on the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

      The FBI did not answer questions about its role in states' open records proceedings.

    • But a former Justice Department official said the federal government should be making this argument in federal court, not a state level where different public records laws apply.

      "The federal government appears to be attempting to assert a federal interest in the information being sought, but it's going about it the wrong way," said Dan Metcalfe, the former director of the Justice Department's office of information and privacy. Currently Metcalfe is the executive director of American University's law school Collaboration on Government Secrecy project.

      A criminal case in Tallahassee cites the same homeland security laws in Morrison's affidavit, court records show, and prosecutors told the court they consulted with the FBI to keep portions of a transcript sealed. That transcript, released earlier this month, revealed that Stingrays "force" cellphones to register their location and identifying information with the police device and enables officers to track calls whenever the phone is on.

    • One law enforcement official familiar with the Tucson lawsuit, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak about internal discussions, said federal lawyers told Tucson police they couldn't hand over a PowerPoint presentation made by local officers about how to operate the Stingray device. Federal officials forwarded Morrison's affidavit for use in the Tucson police department's reply to the lawsuit, rather than requesting the case be moved to federal court.

      In Sarasota, Florida, the U.S. Marshals Service confiscated local records on the use of the surveillance equipment, removing the documents from the reach of Florida's expansive open-records law after the ACLU asked under Florida law to see the documents. The ACLU has asked a judge to intervene. The Marshals Service said it deputized the officer as a federal agent and therefore the records weren't accessible under Florida law.


Posted from Diigo. The rest of Open Web group favorite links are here.

Post a Comment