In 2011, more than 1.3 million cell phone users’ data—including texts, caller locations, and specific call information—was handed over to US law enforcement agencies without a judge’s approval. This has been possible because there is no law that necessitates any prior approval to obtain such information. Last week, Massachusetts congressman Edward Markey submitted the “Wireless Surveillance Act of 2012” to congress. Some components of the bill limit how and why enforcement agencies can ask for “tower dumps,” apply home search standards to cell phone location requests, and require law enforcement agencies to better manage cell phone data.
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What’s the Big Idea?
Markey’s goal for the bill is to “update the 4th amendment for the 21st century.” By applying home search standards to search requests, a judge’s approval would be required before they could use your cell phone to track you. The bill would also allow the FCC to set a specific amount of time that agencies can hold onto data, which currently is indefinitely. As technology increases, the need to tailor the law to the times becomes even greater. This bill takes great strides towards balancing the reach of law with the protection of basic constitutional rights.