Obama Justice Dept. Sides with Police over Warrantless Spying

Friday, April 22, 2011
Cell Phone Data Extraction Device (photo: Cellebrite)
The U.S. Department of Justice under President Barack Obama has taken the position that law enforcement should be allowed to monitor Americans without a warrant.
The administration has appealed a federal appellate court ruling that nullified the assertion by police that they can attach GPS devices to automobiles without obtaining a warrant in order to track a suspect’s movements. The case involved an alleged cocaine distributor whom law enforcement monitored using a global positioning satellite tracking device for a month without seeking permission from a judge.
Police also have also been accused of expanding warrantless spying by extracting information from suspects’ cell phones without court authority. Law enforcement officers in Michigan have used cell phone “extraction” devices to lift text messages, photos, video and GPS data, to which civil libertarians object.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sought information about this practice by Michigan State Police, but police officials have said they will only release the records sought if the ACLU pays a processing fee of more than $500,000. The Michigan State Police have defended the practice, saying that they only use the extraction devices with a warrant or if the owner gives consent. The Michigan ACLU, for its part, has questioned whether handing a cell phone to a police officer constitutes “consent” for the data extraction.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
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