A Win for Consumers on Cellphone Unlocking

Good news on the year-long cell phone unlocking battle. The Federal Communication Commission just came to an agreement with U.S. wireless carriers that will make it easier for consumers to unlock their mobile devices.

The agreement comes almost 12 months after more than 114,000 people petitioned the White House to take a stand against the Librarian of Congress’s decision to make cell phone unlocking illegal. The unlocking movement has been hugely populist—uniting an unlikely group of tech activists, consumer rights advocates, digital freedom groups, electronics recyclers, phone repair shops, and conservatives under the banner of “You bought it, you should own it.”

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Indiana State Police tracking cellphones - but won’t say how or why

This year, the Indiana State Police paid $373,995 for a device that law enforcement personnel have described as a powerful tool in the fight against crime and terrorism.

It could allow investigators in a surveillance vehicle to park in a crowded area and track the movements of anyone nearby with a cellphone and capture the numbers of people’s incoming and outgoing calls and text messages.

All of which concerns civil liberties and open-government groups.

They worry that the technology could be used to violate innocent Hoosiers’ constitutionally protected rights to privacy if proper checks and balances aren’t in place.

But officials at Indiana’s largest police agency aren’t saying what they do with the technology; they’re mum on whose data they’ve collected so far; and they’re not talking about what steps they take to safeguard the data.

So this was a pleasant surprise.  Not only because the Roberts Court is notoriously pro law-enforcement, but also because the decision was basically unanimous (Alito filed a partial concurrence).

The Court held first that the warrant requirement applies to cellphones.  They next determined that the “search incident to arrest” exception to the warrant requirement does not apply to cellphones.  They reasoned that none of the circumstances justifying the exception were present in the case of cellphones.  There is no immediate danger to safety or potential for destruction of evidence once the person has been detained.

This was a surprising decision to me.  In United States v. Robinson, SCOTUS held that a pack of cigarettes was subject to the “search incident to arrest” exception, because police may legitimately search containers on the person’s body for weapons and evidence of criminal activity after the person’s been arrested.  I figured SCOTUS would apply this rationale to cellphones as well.  They’d hold that people had a reasonable expectation of privacy in their cellphones, but that the “search incident to arrest” exception applied, thus vitiating the need for a warrant.

I’m glad to see the Court coming to their senses on this issue.  This decision also represents a sea change of the type that was hinted at by Justice Sotomayor in United States v. Jones, when she questioned the idea that people have no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties.  State and federal governments have argued that people have no reasonable expectation of privacy in much of the data on their cellphones because it is voluntarily disclosed to third parties (e.g. GPS data).  Sotomayor wrote:

[I]t may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties.  E.g., Smith, 442 U. S., at 742; United States v. Miller425 U. S. 435443 (1976) . This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks. People disclose the phone numbers that they dial or text to their cellu-lar providers; the URLs that they visit and the e-mail addresses with which they correspond to their Internet service providers; and the books, groceries, and medi-cations they purchase to online retailers. Perhaps, as Justice Alito notes, some people may find the “tradeoff ” of privacy for convenience “worthwhile,” or come to accept this “diminution of privacy” as “inevitable,”post, at 10, and perhaps not. I for one doubt that people would accept without complaint the warrantless disclosure to the Government of a list of every Web site they had visited in the last week, or month, or year. But whatever the societal expectations, they can attain constitutionally protected status only if our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence ceases to treat secrecy as a prerequisite for privacy. I would not assume that all information voluntarily disclosed to some member of the public for a limited purpose is, for that reason alone, disentitled to Fourth Amendment protection.

Today’s case is a good reminder that sometimes, judges plant the seeds of future opinions by engaging in this sort of rumination.  It appears that Sotomayor’s efforts in Jones did not go unnoticed.

NSA defends global cellphone tracking as legal

The National Security Agency on Friday said its tracking of cellphones overseas is legally authorized under a sweeping U.S. presidential order.

Documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the NSA gathers as many as 5 billion records every day about the location data for hundreds of millions of cellphones worldwide by tapping into cables that carry international cellphone traffic.

The NSA said Friday it was not tracking every foreign phone call and said it takes measures to limit how much U.S. data is collected. The NSA has declined to provide any estimates about the number of Americans whose cellphones it has tracked either because they were traveling overseas or their data was irrevocably included in information about foreigners’ cellphones.

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Louis C.K. Hates Cell Phones

once again, the genius of louis ck. 

"You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not do anything. That’s what phones are taking away. Because underneath everything in your life there’s that thing—that empty, forever empty, that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone. And sometimes when things clear away and you’re in your car, and you start going "Oh no, here it comes…that I’m alone" it starts to visit on you, this sadness. Life is tremendously sad just, you know, being in it. That’s why we text and drive, I look around and pretty much 100 percent of people driving are texting and everyone is murdering each other with their cars, but people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own cause they don’t want to be alone for a second. I was in my car one time and a Bruce Springsteen song came on, Jungleland, and I heard it and it gave me like a fall back to school depression feeling, it made me really sad. And I went "Okay I’m getting sad, better get my phone out for a second and text like fifty people" and I said you know what, don’t. Just be sad. Just stand in the way of it and let it hit you like a truck. And I let it come and I just started to feel, oh my god. And I just pulled over and just cried like a bitch, and it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic, you’re lucky to live sad moments. And then I had happy feelings because of it, because when you let yourself feel sad your body has like antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad and then I met it with true profound happiness. It was such a trip. The thing is because we don’t want that first bit of sad, we push it away with like a little phone 30 second jack off and you never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kind of satisfied with your product… and then you die."