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Christie argued for giving officials the “tools” to collect data. Paul shot back: “You get a warrant.” The issue centers on the Fourth Amendment, which offers the public protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The matter goes far deeper than presidential politics, as such cases wind their way through the courts.
Neither candidate mentioned a relevant federal ruling late last month in the U.S. District Court covering Northern California. Officials sought the right to track suspects’ Cell Site Location Information, or CSLI, for 60 days without gaining a warrant. Such location information lets law enforcement track the whereabouts of our cell phones in relation to cell towers.
According to the court, “(m)ost modern smart phones have applications that continually run in the background, sending and receiving data without a user having to interact with the cell phone.” This gives investigators a vast amount of information about the people they are tracking.
In its amicus brief calling for the warrant requirement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California quoted from a 2010 federal ruling: “A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly churchgoer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups”.
Unfortunately, case law over this particular issue of cell phone tracking has been less than clear. Government officials note the wireless companies include disclaimers stating that they might turn over such data…