Category Archives: Privacy Rights

Government Can Track Cellphones Without Warrants

Mostly everyone has a cell phone.  A lot of smartphones have GPS capabilities.  This can be handy when you are looking for directions and you are lost.  However, what about being tracked?  For instance, unless you change your privacy settings, your photos will keep track of where you took the picture and what time.

The question the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided is whether the government needs a warrant to track you.  In In re: Application of the U.S.A. for Historical Cell Site Data (July 30, 2013 5th Cir. Ct.), the court ruled that obtaining cell-location information without a warrant  did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

When we think of the Fourth Amendment we remember that a search and seizure may require a warrant.  If there is no expectation of privacy, i.e. in a garbage bag we got rid of, then the government wouldn’t need a warrant.  However, if we have an expectation of privacy, i.e. to enter your house, then the government must have a warrant.

An expectation of privacy usually is the crux of a search and seizure case.  Here, the ACLU argued that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they are being tracked for a long period of time and the data gathered is collected in great detail.

In this case, this argument was not discussed by the court.

Why would this not be discussed?  The Fourth Amendment deals with government actions.  In other words,  the seizure or search has to be collected by the government.  In a similar case, the Supreme Court had decided that the government must obtain a warrant if it wants to install a GPS tracking device.  See United States v. Jones (2012).

However, this case was found to be different.  The reason for this is because the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the information was collected by a third-party, i.e. the cell phone carrier.  The court explained,

Where a third party collects information in the first instance for its own purposes, the Government claims that it can obtain this information later with a [section] 2703(d) order, just as it can subpoena other records of a private entity.  We agree.

Id. (citations omitted).

Here, the government was not installing a GPS tracking device.  The Government was accessing a business record owned by carriers.  The court stated:

… cell site information is clearly a business record.  The cell service provider collects and stores historical cell site data for its own business purposes, perhaps to monitor or optimize service on its network or to accurately bill its customers for the segments of its network that they use.   The Government does not require service providers to record this information or store it.  The providers control what they record and how long these records are retained.

Consequently, the court found that the Government did not need a warrant.

via Cops Can Track Cellphones Without Warrants, Appeals Court Rules | Threat Level | Wired.com.

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Court orders reporter to testify in leak case re: Sterling

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 188-page decision that there is no journalist protection of sources.  The decision can be viewed here.

In this case, ex-CIA officer Sterling worked for the CIA from 1993 to Jan. 2002.  During his tenure, he provided classified information to a NT Times reporter Risen.  In 2001, Risen published two articles based on classified information provided to him by Sterling.  After Sterling’s employment was terminated, Sterling attempted to publish a book but was denied ultimately because it contained classified information.

Afterwards, and while Sterling was pursuing legal action against the CIA, Sterling again gave Risen classified information.  NY Times Reporter met with senior administration officials to discuss the impact of the story.  The recommendation was to not publish, which the NY Times agreed to.  Nevertheless, NY Times reporter Risen published his book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,” which disclosed classified information.

As a result, the Attorney General sought to compel Risen’s testimony about the identity of his source.  Risen motioned to quash the subpoena on the basis that he was protected under the First Amendment or/and the federal common-law reporter’s privilege.

 

The Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.  The court held that Risen did not have a reporter’s privilege.  The Circuit Court of Appeals relied heavily on Supreme Court cases.

In Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972), the Supreme Court in no uncertain terms rejected the existence of a reporters’ privilege.   In Univ. of Pa. v. EEOC, 493 U.S. 182, 201 (1990), the Supreme Court explained that the “First Amendment does not invalidate every burdening of the press that may result from the enforcement of civil or criminal statutes of general applicability.”  In Cohen v. Cowles Media Co., 501 U.S. 663, 669 (1991), the Supreme Court again stated that the First Amendment does not “relieve a newspaper reporter of the obligation shared by all citizens to a grand jury subpoena and answer questions relevant to a criminal investigation, even though the reporter might be required to reveal a confidential source.”

Pointedly, the Circuit Court of Appeals refused to apply a “balance test” approach when deciding whether a reporter can be compelled to testify in criminal proceedings.  The court noted that in civil matters, the court recognized a reporter’s privilege which could be overcome if the 3-part test was met.

The Circuit Court of Appeals noted why this line is so important.  In criminal cases, there is a fundamental and comprehensive need for every man’s evidence.  For this reason, any shield to information has to be narrowly construed.  In a civil matter, however, the need for information does not share the same urgency or significance.

For these reasons, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered NY Times reporter Risen to testify in the criminal trial of former CIA official Sterling charged with providing the reporter with classified information.  In so doing, the Court of Appeals held that the First Amendment does not protect reporters who receive unauthorized leaks from being forced to testify against the people suspected of leaking to them.

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July 22, 2013 · 13:45

Hair evidence analysis is not so great

I came across this very interesting press release which stated that in many FBI cases hair analysis’ reliability was exaggerated when making a positive identification in FBI cases.  These include 27 capital cases.

According to the press release, the FBI labs reports have consistently asserted that hair analysis can’t be used to make a positive identification.  However, some FBI agents asserted that hair analysis led to near-certain matches.

In other words, the practice of using hair analysis was deemed “highly unreliable” by the National Academy of Science.  Even though it is possible to conduct hair microscopy and find similarities among various samples, “in many cases the FBI analysts were overstating the significance of these similarities, often leaving juries with the false impression that a hair recovered from the crime scene must have come from the defendant and could not have come from anyone else.” (italics and underline added).

The FBI and the Justice Department uncovered the cases in a review of more than 20,000 lab files that was undertaken in consultation with the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the story says.  So far, about 15,000 files have been reviewed, turning up about 2,100 cases in which hair evidence was used and 120 convictions that could be problematic, including the 27 capital cases.

The Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld made the following statement:

The government’s willingness to admit error and accept its duty to correct those errors in an extraordinarily large number of cases is truly unprecedented.

The Justice Department will notify prosecutors, convicted defendants and their lawyers if a review panel finds FBI examiners made excessive claims. In such cases, the Justice Department will waive rules that restrict post-conviction appeals and will test DNA evidence upon the request of judges or prosecutors.

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ACLU challenges NSA surveillance

On June 11th, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the NSA’s surveillance program.  The ACLU lawsuit alleges that the program violates the First Amendment rights or free speech and association, the right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment, and that the surveillance program exceeds the authority provided by the Patriot Act.

ACLU, a customer of Verizon, made the following comments:

This dragnet program is surely one of the largest surveillance efforts ever launched by a democratic government against its own citizens.

It is the equivalent of requiring every American to file a daily report with the government of every location they visited, every person they talked to on the phone, the time of each call, and the length of every conversation.  The program goes far beyond even the permissible limits set by the Patriot Act and represents a gross infringement of the freedom of association and the right to privacy.

The complaint can be accessed here.

via ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of NSA Phone Spying Program | American Civil Liberties Union.

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Minn. Sup. Ct. reins in expungement power

Minnesota Lawyer (subscription required) has an interesting article regarding expungement of adult and juvenile cases.

In this decision, the Minn. Sup. Ct. declined to recognize a court’s inherent authority to order expungement of executive branch records of an adult’s criminal history (State v. M.D.T.).  When explaining prior precedent, the court differentiated State v. C.A., where the language was dicta and the case did not involve executive records.

The Minn. Sup. Ct. also narrowly construed a juvenile’s statutory expungement remedy in companion cases (In the Matter of the Welfare of: J.J.P.).  Here, the court held that the authority of the court under Minn. Stat. sec. 260B.198 is limited to the order adjudicating the juvenile delinquent.

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Filed under Appellate, courts, legal decision, Minnesota, Privacy Rights, state, Supreme Court

Court upholds Handgun-Sales Age Requirement

This case again shows that regulating firearms is constitutional.

In NRA v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 11-10959 (5th Cir. Apr. 29, 2013), the court upheld 18 USC 922(b)(1) and (c)(1).  These laws prohibit federally licensed firearms dealers from selling handguns under the age of 21.

The NRA claimed that this federal statute was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.  The court disagreed.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals explained:

In a critical passafe, moreover, the Court emphasized that the ‘right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.’ [Dist. of Columbia v. Heller, 554 US 570, at 626].  As the [Supreme] Court explained:

From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose… [N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ills, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Id. at 626-27 (emphasis added) (citations omitted).

Thus, the Circuit Court stated that “Congress designed its scheme to solve a particular problem: violent crimes associated with the trafficking of handguns from federal firearms to licensees to young adults.”  The court, further stated that Congress could have sought to prohibit all persons under 21 from possessing handguns or all guns.  Additionally, the court pointed that under the Census, 18-to-20-year-olds accounted for a disproportionately high percentage of arrests for violent crimes” in 2010.

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Giving up your password when looking for a job?

Should your potential employer require you to give up your password to Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? Will your comments, background information, age, nationality, pictures be used against you?

What if the employer does not use that information, but still has access to it?  Would that raise a concern that it was in fact used against a job applicant?  Allowing the requirement of social media passwords bring potential liability issues to employers.

Minnesota Lawyer (subscription required) has a very interesting article.   The Minnesota proposed bill, introduced by Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) seeks to ban employers from asking job applicants for their social media passwords as part of the job interview.  It is important to note, as stated by the article, that the bill does not discuss already hired employees and the use of employer laptops, computers, smartphones, etc.

Pending legislation in Minnesota includes H.F. 293, H.F. 611, S.F. 484, and S.F. 596.  All of these bills seek to ban employers fro requiring social network passwords as a condition of employment.

The National Conference of State Legislation reports that there are at least 29 states with introduced or pending legislation seeking to ban employers from requiring/asking for these social media passwords.

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Sup. Ct. Rejects Wiretapping challenge

I just realized that I never posted this decision.  The background of Clappler v. Amnesty Int’l USA, No. 11-1024 (Feb. 26, 2013) is as follows.  Attorneys for Guantanamo Bay prisoners challenged the surveillance of their attorney-client and confidential communications.  In this case, to avoid surveillance on attorney-client communications and confidential communications, attorneys traveled to Guantanamo and had face-to-face communications.  Respondents brought this lawsuit to prevent any current, past, or future surveillance on these communications.  The Supreme Court rejected all of respondents’ arguments.

This case solely focused on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”), 50 USC 1881a.  FISA allows the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence to acquire foreign intelligence information by jointly authorizing the surveillance of individuals who (1) are not “United States persons” and (2) are reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.  Before any surveillance, the government must obtain the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s (“FISC”) approval.

This case, in other words, only dealt with the question of the powers of the United States when performing surveillance of foreign communications.

In the 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiffs could not prove by “pointing to specific facts” that any surveillance actually happened. Justice Alito held,

Respondents assert that they can establish injury in fact because there is an objectively reasonable likelihood that their communications will be acquired under§1881a at some point in the future.  But respondents’ theory of future injury is too speculative to satisfy the well-established required that threatened injury must be “certainly impending.” And even if respondents could demonstrate that the threatened injury is certainly impending, they still would not be able to establish that this injury is fairly traceable to §1881a.

(Italics in original).

So what meets the burden of injury in fact? Justice Alito stated that “[a]lthough imminence is concededly a somewhat elastic concept, it cannot be stretched beyond its purpose, which is to ensure that the alleged injury is not too speculative… that the injury is certainly impending.” (Italics in original).

In sum, Justice Alito delineated how respondents might meet their burden.

Respondents must have “actual knowledge” that the government is performing surveillance on their contacts or clients.

Alternatively, respondents might meet their burden through imminent surveillance if two conditions are met.  First, respondents must bring about “specific facts demonstrating that the communications of their foreign contacts will be targeted.”  Second, if imminence was shown, respondents must show that the government “will seek to use <§1881a-authorized surveillance (rather than other methods) to do so” for the respondent’s contacts and clients, and that the court granted the FISC order.

What posits an interesting conundrum is how will parties know if they are or will be subjected to surveillance under the specific provision of § 1881a of FISA?  The government knows for sure whether the plaintiffs’ communications where intercepted.  Thus, the parties might only become aware when a case is brought against them with information gathered from a FISC order.

 

via Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Surveillance Law – NYTimes.com.

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Update on NYPD’s surveillance and infiltration of Muslim groupds

Are Muslim communities being unfairly targeted by law enforcement?  This is the conversation being raised after the New York Civil Liberties Union sought to revisit a 41-year old case.

You may have heard about news articles discussing NYPD’s surveillance and infiltration of New York-based Muslim groups.  Last year, the Associated Press confirmed the existence of a program, called the Assessment Program, formerly known as the Demographics Unit, which spied on Muslims.

As way of background, in 1985, a Manhattan federal judge ordered a consent decree (known as “Handschu guidelines”) whereby the police is barred from investigating political and religious organizations without “specific information” linking the group to a crime.  In that case, Handschu v. Special Services Division, the police had extensive dossiers on a large array of political groups, including the Black Panthers.

After 9-11, the judge loosened the Handschu guidelines to give police wider powers to investigate political groups in the war on terror.

The New York Civil Liberties Union released a memorandum, submitted to the court, seeking to end the NYPD’s Assessment Program.  In the memorandum there is testimony stating that an informant was paid as much as $1,500 a month to take part in the NYPD’s alleged “create and capture” program.  The informant stated,

This meant I was to pretend to be a devout Muslim and start an inflammatory conversation about jihad or terrorism and then capture the respond to sent to the NYPD.

I did this on numerous occasions with people I met at the mosques and other locations.

The question to be decided is – how much latitude law enforcement given when conducting surveillance of political and religious groups?

As a side note, you may have also come across the story regarding the FBI’s surveillance on Muslims groups, known as “Operation Flex.”  That story has been reported in many news circles, including the Business Insider here.

via Courthouse News Service.

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