Can they track you now?

Cell phones have become ubiquitous in modern life. We use them in our homes and cars, while shopping or doing business, perhaps even when we attend political rallies or protest gatherings. Now, the Obama administration wants access to Americans’ cell phone records — without obtaining warrants — to track where we’ve been.

This is a bad idea, one that we hope a federal appeals court in Philadelphia, and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court, will reject.

The appeals court heard oral arguments in the case last Friday, a case that stems from federal efforts to track drug traffickers. But, as Judge Dolores Sloviter so aptly noted during the hearing, if the no-warrant argument is upheld, there would be nothing to prevent some future rogue government officials from using cell phone data to track the political activities of its citizens, much as Iran is already trying to do.

In a country that has already seen the likes of J. Edgar Hoover and President Richard Nixon using whatever information they could get their hands on to track the activities of their opponents, that possibility is no idle concern.

At least President George W. Bush’s infamous effort to use warrantless wiretaps was limited to suspected terrorist activities and to international phone calls.

Although the Justice Department contends its interest is only in the drug case at hand, Judge Sloviter made it clear the implications are much broader. Furthermore, she noted, obtaining a search warrant for these sorts of records has never been difficult or time consuming, so long as there is probable cause.

That should remain the standard, thereby preserving Americans’ Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.


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