Federal Court Approves Warrantless Tracking of Cell Phones, XKeyscore Explained

Federal court approves warrantless tracking of cell phones. Brian Duggan, technologist for Open Technology Institute, weighs in on the new ruling and XKeyscore.

On Tuesday, the Fifth Court Circuit of Appeals ruled that law enforcement does not need a warrant to obtain your cell phone location information. Cell phone towers are able to track a mobile user's device and prior to this ruling, the information was only accessible with a warrant through the telecommunication companies.  The 2-1 decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the third federal appeals court to decide the privacy issue. The 5th Circuit covers Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

U.S. Court of Appeal for the 7th Circuit ruled Wednesday April 30, 2012 that it is now legal for police to search cell phones without a warrant. The 7th Circuit covers Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

According to court documents, Abel Flores-Lopez was busted for a methamphetamine deal in Indiana. A witness in the case noted that a cell phone call had been made, discussing details of the drug deal.

The arresting police officer searched Flores-Lopez's phone without obtaining a warrant. The defendant argued that the police obtained evidence illegally, thus making all following evidence inadmissible in court.

Judge Richard Posner overruled the defendant and argued that the cell phone should be treated as a diary and referenced the case United States v. Jones.

"So opening the diary found on the suspect whom the police have arrested, to verify his name and address and discover whether the diary contains information relevant to the crime for which he has been arrested, clearly is permissible; and what happened in this case was similar but even less intrusive, since a cell phone's phone number can be found without searching the phone's contents, unless the phone is password protected - and on some cell phones even if it is."

Posner continued to argue that it was a matter of urgency because it was possible for an accomplice of the defendant to remote wipe the phone before police could obtain a warrant.

In the Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, the appeals court ruled that probable-cause warrants were not necessary to obtain cell-site data.

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that searching a cell phone without a warrant during the arrest of a Boston man that contributed to his conviction on drug and weapon charges was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue.

United States Courts of Appeals and United States District Courts.

In the video interview above, Brian Dugan discusses XKeyscore, which appears to be an interface that allows an NSA agent to do a Google search against your data acquired by the NSA. Data they are looking for are your contacts, any software used to secure yourself, and ways to defeat your security software.

XKeyscore is a formerly secret computer system used by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) for searching and analyzing Internet data about foreign nationals across the world. The program is run jointly with other agencies including Australia's Defence Signals Directorate, and New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau. The existence XKeyscore was revealed in July 2013 by Edward Snowden.

XKeyscore works with the help of over 700 servers based in "US and allied military and other facilities as well as US embassies and consulates" in several dozen countries.

Glenn Greenwald, the The Guardian reporter who broke the story about the NSA's surveillance programs claimed that even low-level analysts had the ability to search private emails and phone calls of Americans. Greenwald added that NSA databank with its communications collected over the years allows its analysts to search that database and to listen "to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered, and it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address or that IP address do in the future."

Greenwald's work comes in an era when information has also been revealed by Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras in exposing the ongoing NSA public surveillance scandal.

See also ...
abcNEWS Glenn Greenwald: Low-Level NSA Analysts Have ‘Powerful and Invasive’ Search Tool

Bloomberg BNA Police Officers Don't Need Warrant To Search Data on Arrestee's Cellphone

WIRED Cops Can Track Cellphones Without Warrants, Appeals Court Rules

Related ...