NEW YORK (Apr. 24) – The American Civil Liberties Union announced yesterday its discovery that former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Chris Christie gave approval to track people’s precise whereabouts through their cell phones without a warrant.
“This is just the newest example of our privacy rights careening over the edge with federal officials drunk at the wheel,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “Big Brother is tucked away in our cell phones, and the man behind the curtain is Chris Christie.”
Justice Department documents made public yesterday through a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation show that the government is actively taking advantage of GPS or other similarly precise technology to monitor people’s coming and goings, specifically in New Jersey as well as Florida, and that it does not always obtain a search warrant beforehand.
“Tracking the location of people’s cell phones reveals intimate details of their daily routines and is highly invasive of their privacy,” said Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the ACLU. “The government is violating the Constitution when it fails to get a search warrant before tracking people this way.”
The documents show that federal prosecutors in New Jersey, as well as Florida, are obtaining court orders merely by showing that the tracking information is “relevant and material” to a criminal investigation – a substantially lower burden than the “probable cause” standard required by the Constitution.
“Many people aren’t aware that they can be tracked using the GPS chip in their cell phones, even when the phone is not in use,” said EFF senior staff attorney Kevin Bankston. “It’s time for Congress to step in and make clear that federal law requires the government to get a warrant before tracking your cell phone.”
The ACLU and EFF sued the Justice Department in July 2008 for records related to the government’s use of cell phones as tracking devices. Some documents have been turned over but the lawsuit continues over additional information about the government’s practices.
Attorneys on the case are Crump of the ACLU, David Sobel of EFF and Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.